“Why don’t you want to work with me?,” he asked over my speakerphone. The entire office was listening in to this conversation, I was sure. My door was open. Folks had sort of stopped working. They weren’t looking my way, but you could tell they were listening. “Because I don’t like you!,” I said. I shocked myself when I heard those words come out of my mouth, but then I heard chuckles, snickers and one “yes!” from the others listening in.
That conversation was the end of a courtship where I was trying to decide whether or not to partner with another small business owner I had recently met. At first glance it looked like a good match. Our two companies weren’t redundant. We were each successful. We each offered something unique yet complimentary. I felt that we could be stronger together, than separate, and could put in a very competitive contract proposal to the Army. But when we met face to face to go over how we would work together, warning signals began to loudly sound.
As the other owner began to talk, it was all about him; how I should be happy that he ‘chose’ us to partner with him. He said our reputation would only improve working with him, and that he was going to obviously win the contract (implying he had an inside track with someone on the Army staff), so we would be wise to agree to his terms and join his team. What I really felt like I was hearing — the unsaid or implied message — was that we had been favored by the king, we should feel grateful to be asked to join his team, and we should willingly accept whatever work-share he deemed fair — and it would probably be appropriate if I felt the desire to kneel and kiss his ring!
My team heard all of this and I could tell were immediately offended. So was I. But I wanted to WIN! Surely I could put my own ego aside and join forces with this unsavory bum for the sake of a win, right? As a former Naval Officer, I was taught it’s all about the ship, the crew — not your own personal desires. Couldn’t I just hold my nose and make the deal and move forward? Isn’t revenue growth the main thing?
No, it’s not. As you already have seen from the my first sentence above, I did not partner with him. Why?
- Principles trump preferences, every time. You can negotiate someone’s preferences — business rules, work-share, tactics — but you cannot negotiate away someone’s principles. This guy was stomping all over my principles of fairness, teamwork, and the golden rule. I knew we would hit an impasse in our relationship — probably sooner than later. Any revenue dreams I might have had would evaporate at that point.
- Most mergers fail due to chemistry. It’s not the legal or financial aspects of a merger that kill it — the lawyers will have done their jobs, the accountants will have done their jobs — but it’s the chemistry or culture clashes that kill a merger. I could see our chemistry was not compatible.
So what happened? Well, as you saw, we went our separate ways. This guy did win that contract. And now you’re saying, “Wayland, you made a mistake!” No, I don’t think I did. You see, his contract was ended early by the Army. It appears some of his key employees left his company in the middle of the contract because of toxic working conditions. As a result, his contract performance suffered. His reputation took a big hit.
Whew! Choose your partners carefully.
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