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Partnerships: Our Best Innovation Ally

By Adam Stanley,  Global CIO and Chief Digital Officer

There’s a lot of talk about partnerships these days, but it’s worth revisiting their value in helping companies like ours manage relentless change, particularly on the IT front.

As everyone knows, the business world is in a state of flux. Change is a relentless mantra — and it’s not going to stop. Real estate companies like ours are no longer just helping companies find or renew space, we’re working directly with the C-suite and CRE leadership to reposition workplaces and strategies to help them withstand change and remain competitive.

It’s a big lift – and as a firm we too are hyper focused on making sure that our own IT systems and processes are ahead of the curve so our employees are fully supported in delivering the best and most innovative services to our clients.

For many business leaders, acquiring tech companies seems like the only path to manage the disruptive forces of change. At Cushman & Wakefield, we’ve taken another path on the IT front based on partnerships – and it’s paying off in many exciting ways.

Just as real estate “partners” offer the core expertise to help position companies for the future, in my view tech partners are the best bet in helping large organizations such as ours navigate relentless change. Such partners include universities whose research expertise can be leveraged into game-changing R&D, accelerators that can source innovations from all around the world, and agile startups that can experiment nimbly with new processes and ideas. As change leaders, we’ve embraced them all.

By tapping into the ‘world of tech innovators’ of all sizes, corporations can drive unrestricted incredible productivity gains for both our customers and our own professionals.

So how does a company build a successful tech partnership? There’s no magic bullet, and by no means am I’m saying I’m the best at this. However, based on my experience with tech startups, accelerators, universities, and more, there are four factors that facilitate success:

Mutual benefit

In a good partnership, both partners must achieve quantifiable benefits. To ensure this, it’s vital to define all stakeholder goals clearly and upfront. Corporate leaders need to dig deep and gain a thorough understanding of their strategic objectives beyond the idea of driving innovation to remain competitive. Before signing on a partner, we request a detailed business case that addresses such questions such as: What unmet client needs will the partner help address? How will the partnership augment our own internal resources and processes?

For startups, the advantages of partnership include gaining access to the market, raising capital, or taking advantage of economies of scale. Universities may be seeking funding to replace public sources that have dried up in recent years.

For both parties, the wins can be considerable.

Trust

True partnerships depend on trust and a certain leap of faith, not just carefully worded contracts. Partners engage with each other at a deeper level, which means you must share common values, in addition to goals and objectives. The need for trust is a truism that real estate professionals know only too well; without it client relationships would fall apart.

In the IT world, just like most others, red tape can strangle all great plans – something I weigh all of the time. My team and I work very hard to keep the path as clear for our partners so they are as free as possible to do what we expect of them. Though it’s vital to define terms and manage project processes, micromanaging stifles creativity and motivation. Mutual understanding and trust should be your guide.

Evolution

This goes hand-in-hand with trust. You can never know exactly how the relationship will develop—it evolves as you learn more about each other. There are times we must be open to adapting our processes to suit the needs of our partners – which can be tricky when it comes to bridging older and new systems — and there are times that our partners must compromise.

While start-ups and other tech firms can challenge companies by pushing for fast change, academic research often proceeds at a slower pace than we’re used to. In this area, I’ve learned to define a specific timescale for each university engagement with an eye to long-term outcomes.

With all of our IT partnerships, it’s about keeping an open mind and being prepared to adapt, adapt, adapt.

Rough spots

No matter how successful a partnership may be, you’ll have down days when you wonder if the fit is right. That’s okay—it’s just part of the change process. Heck, I certainly don’t know of a perfect personal relationship! When the going gets tough, my team and I leverage some of that trust to talk through issues and brainstorm solutions, and in most cases we get back on track.

There’s no way around it: building great partnerships takes a lot of time and effort. There’s a lot a stake with IT change, and the going can get complicated. At Cushman & Wakefield, our focus on partnerships instead of acquisitions has helped to distinguish us as an innovation leader in the industry.

Be well. Lead On.

A version of this blog appeared on CIO.com.

Adam Stanley provides strategic and operational direction for Cushman & Wakefield’s client facing and colleague technology systems and infrastructure across all global business lines. Drawing on his more than 20 years of industry experience and as an integral member of the global executive team, Adam is a change agent with proven success driving growth, performance, talent retention and innovation.

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