Organisation : Powerhouse Partners - Building an Organization Culture for Breakaway Results


Stephen M. Dent is a leading pioneer in the theory, research, and application of Partnering Intelligence, leadership and employee development. An award-winning organization consultant whose twenty-five career includes work with Bank of America, GE Capital Services, NASA, Xcel Energy, State of Minnesota and Wells Fargo Bank. He is the founding partner of Minneapolis-based Partnership Continuum, Inc. He is the author of Partnering Intelligence and The Partnering Intelligence Fieldbook both from Davies-Black. Steve can be reached at:


James H. Krefft, Ph.D., consults with organizations in implementing large-scale change. A former human resource executive, he have twenty years' international experience in the formulation of strategic direction, organization design, competency-based selection and human performance systems. His clients have included Exxon-Mobile, GE Capital Services, OPPD Nuclear, Pinnacle West Capital, Qwest Wireless Communications, Thermo King and U.S. Department of Energy. He has published articles and case studies on implementing large-scale organizational changes and is co-writing a book on how to re-define retirement. Jim can be reached at



Connectivity is critical for any business to be a true ‘Powerhouse Partner.’  In today’s technically intricate, nothing-ever-stays-the-same-for-long global marketplace, organization leaders can no longer use governance and management models based on twentieth century military-industrial architectures, hierarchies designed to disconnect rather than to connect.  As customer’s needs swirl, as markets migrate, as technologies erupt, companies must have a superabundance of connections to withstand the shockwaves of these massive movements.


Building on the partnering model first proposed by Stephen M. Dent in Partnering Intelligence: Creating Value for Your Business By Building Strong Alliances (Davies-Black Publishing, Second Edition, 2004), Powerhouse Partners outlines the structure and skills needed for a partnering infrastructure while inspiring employee loyalty and commitment to the vision and objectives of the enterprise.  The Powerhouse Partner Model, an end-to-end methodology for turning a business into a Powerhouse Partner, advocates three broad steps:


1)      Practice Focused Leadership

2)      Build a Partnering Infrastructure

3)      Develop Smart Partners.


These three components are the inputs that combine to create a partnering culture, the foundation of a partnering organization.  Because of the systemic nature of organizations, all components must be present to achieve the full potential and power of a partnering culture.  Each of the three components has specific objectives that an enterprise must achieve in order to build a partnering organization.


Positive bottom line business results are rooted in culture.  Culture springs mainly from how leaders behave – what they say and do, and how they say and do it – and it materializes in two principal ways.  ‘Culture by Evolution’ happens when no deliberate thought is applied to the configuration of an organization’s culture.  ‘Culture by Design’ happens when leaders sit down, formulate a culture and then rigorously communicate and live by its tenets.  In the twenty-first century, a business that wants to stay alive, and thrive, must learn the lessons of a designed culture.


Given how vital organizational culture is to the success of an enterprise, a company’s leaders sooner or later face this question: Is our current culture going to get us where we want to go?  If the answer is “No” or “Not likely” or “Maybe,” another query arises:  What kind of culture will get us where we want to go?  And then a third enigma will rear up: How do we get there from here?  Inasmuch as undertaking to change an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult, costly endeavors on which a leadership team can embark, leaders must answer these key questions with a great deal of confidence.


A traditional organization invests enormous resources in watchers: watchers to watch watchers who are watching watchers watching people actually doing work.  On the other hand, a partnering culture aims first at expediting internal alliances among an organization’s diverse functions, and second at extending the same partnering expertise externally to forge mutually beneficial relationships with other companies.  A partnering culture appreciates the power of organic networks and embraces connectivity as the way to do business every day.


Rewiring an organization for a partnering culture does not mean rooting out and exterminating legacy subcultures.  Rather, a partnering culture catalyzes the existing energy of the divergent subcultures.  Given that leadership behavior forms the foundation and parameters of organizational culture, leaders who want to create a partnering culture must be willing to modify their own behaviors and to invest resources in installing the infrastructure and processes required for building the organization’s Partnering Quotient™, or partnering intelligence. These six inter-related set of behavioral skills create the relational guidelines and comprise one’s partnering intelligence.


The Six Partnering Attributes include:


·         Self-Disclosure and Feedback

·         Ability to Trust

·         Win/Win Orientation

·         Future Orientation

·         Comfort with Change

·         Comfort with Interdependence


 Creating a partnering culture positions an organization to accrue four chief benefits:


  • Openness – Staying in touch with customers and stakeholders
  • Creativity – Inventing and innovating new products and services
  • Agility – Responding quickly to both opportunities and threats
  • Resiliency – Hanging in there and bouncing back

 1) Practice Focused Leadership


Functional leaders build healthy cultures.  In order to have a positive impact on human activity, leaders must first practice focused leadership by modeling the partnering behaviors they expect from others.  Leaders grounded in personal mastery lead by values and example, not by power or position.  Envisioning a future that is grander than self and having a noble cause that excites others are vital characteristics of leaders.  Rewarding collaboration, fostering interdependence, and creating networks and information-sharing environments exponentially increase task output and quality.  Exceptional leaders embolden people by using techniques that encourage individuals to take accountability, rather than shunning them with a finger-pointing culture.


2) Build a Partnering Infrastructure


The first step in building a partnering infrastructure is to create a grounded, compelling strategic framework.  A strategic framework – comprised of a vision, a mission, and strategic directions – interconnects an enterprise’s ethereal energies with its material output, creating an interactive, self-reinforcing system.  Ethereal energies are the unseen forces that drive organizations.  Material output directly reflects the ethereal energy within an organization.  A Vision is a “guiding star,” not an “x” on a map.  A Mission describes “how” an organization will achieve its Vision.  A Strategic Direction specifies a broad area of focus, the kinds of specific activities the company needs to accomplish over the next 2-3 years to achieve its Mission.


As part of the partnering infrastructure, leaders need to determine the degree to which the enterprise is currently structured to support its strategic objectives. For example, traditional hierarchical organizations institutionalize roadblocks to the flow of information and to the formation of knowledge-sharing connections through functional “silos,” levels of management or rigid job descriptions.  Creating or changing an organization structure involves two interconnected activities: job design and organization design.  If partnering is to be how we do things, partnering must be baked into every job.  The next step in ensuring that an organization’s structure is aligned both with its partnering philosophy and with its partnering processes, is to redesign the enterprise as a partnering network.


Business don’t partner, people do.  If leaders want to build a partnering organization, they must hire, grow, and keep either people who are already smart partners or people who are capable of becoming smart partners.  To build a partnering organization, today’s leaders will have to incorporate the Six Partnering Attributes into the mix of selection and development criteria.  A partnering interview is a structured behavioral interview that assesses a candidate’s strengths as a smart partner.  A partnering interview plan is a tool that interviewers use in advance of interviews to note critical questions to ask and also during interviews to ensure that the interviewers probe for evidence of all relevant partnering competencies.


Interpersonal relationships act as transmission conduits, as connectors.  Neither leaders nor employees will acquire vital relational skills by osmosis, or by accident, or by divine intervention.  Leaders must proactively do three things to keep and grow smart partners: 1) build loyalty and a sense of duty; 2) coach people to grow informal communications networks; and, 3) strengthen relationship skills, both the diversity-management skills of leaders and the partnering skills of employees.  Leaders of an enterprise competing in the Age of Information and Connections must decide whether the workforce will build relational skills by design or stumble on relational skills by evolution.


3) Develop Smart Partners


Developing smart partners, the third component of the Powerhouse Partner Model, includes three objectives, the first of which is reinforcing the foundation for openness.  Culture is about interaction, and the foundation of culture is how we communicate with each other.  The partnering attribute Self-Disclosure and Feedback serves as the keystone of communication.  When people get to know each other, they are more likely to discover that they have things in common, accelerating the flow of information.  The attribute Ability to Trust acts as the cornerstone of connection.  Leaders must take an active role in leading the discussion about trust in their organizations and make it a critical success factor for the organization. These two attributes are interconnected: people do not self-disclose or provide feedback to those they do not trust. Likewise, trust increases the frequency and authenticity of the self-disclosure and feedback when provided, adding additional value to the exchange.


The second objective that drives the development of smart partners is moving to the future with creativity.  Leaders must not only think about the future, but also live in the future.  People who have a past orientation want to maintain the status quo based on past experience – whether positive or negative.  People who have a Future Orientation are more likely to see the possibilities inherent in new situations and approach them with smart planning and a sense of accountability.  In addition, the smart partnering attribute Comfort With Change plays a crucial role in moving to the future with creativity.  All change is personal, and so leaders must get clear on the case for change, align the change with the strategic framework, integrate the change into the organization structure, communicate the change and provide the opportunity for people to identify and get their needs met during the change process. Future Orientation and Comfort with Change are reinforcing attributes. One cannot envision a new future if they are resistant to change. Likewise, if leadership is burdened by a past orientation, they may be blindsided by the changing world around them.


Embracing connectivity for agility is the third objective that fosters the development of smart partners.  Achieving a balance between attaining results and satisfying employees' needs requires the use of the partnering attribute Win-Win Orientation.  To end conflict successfully leaders must attempt to meet everyone's highest-priority needs.  Moreover, teamwork by itself doesn’t cut it anymore.  The attribute Comfort With Interdependence, a commitment to mutual success, must be embedded in every action.  Partnering cultures make it a value that conflict and problem solving are accomplished in a way that enables everyone – regardless of style – to be heard at the table.


Culture plays such a vital role in the success of an organization that leaders can no longer afford to leave it to chance.  Connectivity is critical for any business aspiring to be a true Powerhouse Partner, and thus the ability to partner successfully has an impact on every aspect of an organization’s culture and operations.  Four characteristics combine to give a Powerhouse Partner the resilience it needs to survive and prosper: self-directing, self-learning, self-renewing, and self-reinforcing.  A Powerhouse Partner keeps its eye on the ball, promotes openness, approaches the marketplace with an abundance mentality, and leverages connectedness.  Partnering creates value; people partner; create the conditions for smart partners to prosper and watch your business grow.


 © Stephen M Dent & Jim Krefft 2004




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