Partners at an Impasse: What to do when everyone’s not on the same page about their next move
Partnerships can easily become divided on the future of their business without first taking these 4 steps together
The strength of even the most successful partnerships may be tested when advisors consider changing firms. They may be in total agreement that their current firm no longer serves them and that it’s time to seriously consider leaving, yet they may have differing views on what will better serve them. And it’s at that point that so many get stuck, reaching an impasse that can lead to a loss of momentum in both the business as well as the exploration process.
Where do they go from there?
When reaching an impasse, we find that most partnerships follow at least one of these 4 paths:
1. Using the power of persuasion
One partner may be able to win the others over, gaining their support of his point of view, but only if each advisor has been given an opportunity to state his case and explain his thinking. That is, why a particular choice is better for clients and the team. To be effective, the advisor must see the world through his partner’s eyes and acknowledge with some objectivity the pros and cons. But if this exercise is seen as creating a winner and a loser, the strength and continuity of the team may suffer.
2. Finding a compromise
Consider if there is an alternative solution that allows each partner to get some of what they want. This requires flexibility, creativity and communication on all parts. Each partner must understand what matters most to himself, as well as to each of his partners. The industry has no shortage of legitimate options, so it’s very possible that there is another solution—one that no one has thought of or considered.
3. Splitting up and going separate ways
The conflicts that sometimes surface as a team contemplates a major change such as a move can, unfortunately, highlight issues the team otherwise has. Partners may realize that they no longer see the world the same way, and they may be too far apart in their thinking to compromise or win each other over. If the differences are insurmountable, an advisor may feel there is no alternative but to end the partnership and each pursue his individual vision.
4. Staying put—making peace with the status quo and each other
For partners who value their relationship above the solutions they are individually advocating, they may decide that it’s easier to stay put, at least for the time being, despite the frustrations they have with their firm. Circumstances change, and pain levels ebb and flow. Partners may wish to hit pause for now, reserving the right to revisit a move in the future.
For advisors who are at the initial stages of due diligence, there are ways to anticipate the conflicts and reduce the likelihood of getting stuck in a stalemate. Consider these 4 steps BEFORE jumping into the due diligence process:
1. Identify your priorities at the outset
Before getting too deep into exploration, it’s helpful to take the time both individually and as a group to perform an assessment of priorities, goals, and expectations. (We often share our self-assessment form with advisors for this process.)
2. Communicate with your partners
First and foremost be honest and transparent. Keep the dialogue going throughout the due diligence process to ensure everyone is still on the same page as things can easily change over time.
3. Perform some individualized due diligence
Each partner should carry out their own exploration, especially when the team is multigenerational or have different business approaches or styles. For example, the analytical, granular thinker on the team will likely need a different process than his visionary big picture-thinking partner. But both must get what they need if they are to move forward together.
4. Create a resolution process
Think carefully about how you will make decisions—both along the way and ultimately as to where to go. For example, does everyone get an equal vote? What happens if the vote is not unanimous? Keep in mind that a team’s heir apparent should have a voice as well. Addressing points like these in advance will help avoid an issue later on.
As with every significant decision and in every negotiation process, flexibility is required where there is more than one opinion. Without it, partners will be stuck in limbo: Unable to move forward in tandem to a new goal or destination, but also difficult to find a way back to where they started.
Partners who, at the start, commit to their partnership and are motivated to work together will be more open to being flexible. The ability to recognize and work through any differences to reach common ground before getting to an impasse is what will build an even stronger team and future.