5 Ways to Take Command of a
Partnership Gone Bad

by Marian Banker

If you're in a business partnership or a longstanding working relationship that isn't working, ask yourself these questions. Then, if you need to change or end the partnership, follow these five steps.

A client, we'll call her Susan, had a business that was struggling financially and operationally. She was totally disgusted because her partner of 10 years was no longer carrying his weight and didn't seem to understand the gravity of the situation. She was so stressed she was seriously considering liquidating the business if things couldn't be changed for the better in a very short time.

What to do? Her first commitment had to be to herself. Susan was able to realize that it was up to her to take command of this situation. She was coached to create some measurable goals with timeframes. She decided she wanted to give the business and her partner one last chance. Susan knew she must bring her partner, and eventually her staff, into the picture in order to get their buy-in.

She created Job Roles for herself, her partner and each of her staff (Office Manager, Buyer and 2 Salesmen). Because of the longstanding relationship between her and her partner, we agreed it was best if I met with the partner and her to present things up to this point. Preparing for this was anxiety-producing for Susan, but also liberating. NOTE: Using a third party (like a coach or consultant) can offer a different perspective to a known problem.

The partner was cordial and listened politely, as had been expected. But, of course, he didn't really GET IT that things had to change. Susan gave it three months under the new plan. Unfortunately, she had to bite the bullet and make the decision to liquidate the business. Fortunately, she was able to see the handwriting on the wall way in advance and gave herself six months to finalize the liquidation. Susan is in the process of purchasing a new business which will be hers alone. She could only do that once she realized she didn't actually need a partner. She had been carrying the business alone for several years anyway.

If you're in a business partnership or a longstanding working relationship that isn't working, ask yourself why you got into the relationship to begin with. Many times people just don't feel ready to take on the full responsibility of running a business so they look for anyone who is interested and willing to work with them. Having the wrong partner is the basis of many partner problems. How to find the right partner is, of course, the topic for another article.

If you can answer yes to one or more of the following it may be time to take command of your business and make the necessary changes.

  • You're feeling like you're carrying more than your share of the work.
  • Your partner seems to have lost interest in the business.
  • You find more and more to disagree about.
  • There have been changes in your partner's life that are interfering with his ability to function in the business.
  • Your interest in the direction of the business is different from that of your partner.

Here are the steps I suggest you take if you're seriously considering making changes to your partnership arrangement.

1. Review your Partnership Agreement.

Your partnership may exist in the form of a Partnership or a Corporation. Either way, you have a legal entity that binds the two of you.

Have your attorney review your documents and tell you exactly where you stand from a legal perspective. This is important so you will know your limitations as you begin to plan.

If you have a written agreement about Roles and Responsibilities for each of you, assess whether it is still appropriate or needs to be updated.

2. Decide and document exactly what you want for your business and yourself.

Being in a state of dissatisfaction is the spur that will get you to take action. But you don't want to take action until you've thought through exactly what you're trying to achieve. Consider probable and possible outcomes for different scenarios to help you finalize a plan.

3. Create and write a plan to accomplish your goals.

The most positive thing you can do is create a plan for yourself and the business as you see it and be prepared to present that to your partner. If dissolving the business is in your plan, be prepared with both the reasons you want to leave...and what you plan to do in the future. You're not just leaving the business; you're going into something else.

4. Schedule a time to "talk business" with your partner.

A change of venue from your typical meeting might be helpful. Sitting down over lunch or coffee could be a good place to start.

Be prepared for whatever response comes back to you. It can be anywhere from thankful to downright hostile. It will likely require some time for your partner to think through the ramifications of your proposal. Be forewarned; it's very difficult for people to make changes unless not making changes will jeopardize something of value to them. The bottom line is you don't want to back down from what you want. Compromise only if you're still OK with the terms.

If your partner is looking for an excuse to blame you for the ills of the business, you may hear about it when you bring up the subject. I know it's tempting, but be careful not to get into a blaming match. The objective is to present what you want for the business and yourself, and your plan to make it happen. Outlining how you see their role in the business is totally appropriate. Then it's up to them to agree or respond with another suitable option.

5. Be willing to walk away.

If you cannot come to terms, or if you do and the partner does not keep his agreement, you must be prepared for a change in business status. You may decide to close the doors, sell the business, sell your share to the partner, buy him out or any other option that will allow you to move forward with YOUR plan.

I know it's not easy to give up on something you've worked so long and hard to achieve. It's a lot like a marriage that's gone bad. At some point, however, you have to make the decision not to be the victim of circumstances any longer and make your move to position yourself for a better future.

Being proactive; thinking through what you want and how you will get it is the first step toward taking command of your business. If you continue to wait for the partner to do something you may wait a very long time. Your frustration will keep building and the business will surely continue to suffer.

Is it time to "take command of your business"?

About the author:
Marian Banker, MBA, Business Leadership Coach is President of Prime Strategies,
http://primestrategies.com. Her mission is transforming business owners into business leaders. She applies a proven business success system that organizes thinking, directs actions and establishes a leader mindset. Marian frequently works with partners and family businesses.  Copyright 2008 Prime Strategies

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