Since joining Microsoft a year ago to lead business development, I often get asked how I think about partnerships. To me, partnerships are a path to innovation. By coming together with others, we’re able to unlock new opportunities, chart new territories and reach people in new ways. Office 2016, released this week, is a great example of partners like Salesforce, Dropbox and Uber bringing so much innovation to the Office platform.
When you work with competitors, as we often do, it’s easy to think that partnerships are about competing for value. They are not. Partnerships are about creating mutual value. Competition is not a barrier to partnership. Even with companies that compete, if you open your eyes and mind to the potential, you can often find rich areas of collaboration.
Every relationship is different, but my approach to partnerships begins with five principles.
Partnerships are explorations. I want to be open to what synergies might exist and how we find the best ways to collaborate. Openness begins with respect – respect for the people at the table and the experiences they bring, respect for the other company and its mission. I don’t bring baggage into the room with me, and I don’t let the past dictate the future. I recently had the chance to sit down with Re/code’s Kara Swisher and share some of those stories.
Listening isn’t just about hearing words, it’s about understanding the other party’s intent and showing respect even if we don’t always agree. To me, this is a fundamental principle of good leadership. Plus, it’s just hard to build a relationship with a bad listener.
3. Say what you mean and mean what you say
Honesty and transparency are keys to any successful relationship. Over the years, I found that it’s the best way to get things done and have all parties feel terrific about the outcome. In today’s world, innovation is continuous and rapid and no one has time to waste on unnecessary cycles. Being straightforward in a relationship is the best way to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome in the fastest time possible.
4. Stay focused
In many partnerships, there are endless opportunities to collaborate and I want to uncover all of them. However, I think it’s important to always start with one or two areas of focus. Once you’ve proven you can work together successfully, then tackle the next ideas and challenges.
5. Don’t be afraid to take a pause or hit reset
Even when both parties have nothing but the best intentions, things can sometimes go sideways and may even come to a standstill. So it’s important that when a relationship becomes strained, that you take a moment to pause, listen to what the other party has to say and if necessary, hit the reset button. I’ve been involved in several negotiations that came to a standstill, but things got back on track. Sometimes, it’s critical to look at an existing relationship with a fresh set of eyes. At the same time, what didn’t work at one time, might work in the future. Technology changes. The business environment changes. People change. Wherever we are in a process, we want to maintain that sense of openness.
As a new Microsoft, we’re taking a fresh approach to business development. I’m not interested in playing hardball. I’m interested in building relationships. I’m incredibly enthused by the work we’re already doing with our partners, and I look forward to the innovation that we will collectively bring to the world in the months and years ahead.