A friend called me the other day and he was really frustrated and angry. One of his business partners had decided to leave the business and take a significant portion of the business with him. He had all the necessary non-compete and non-solicit agreements in place, but he knew how this worked. Some sort of monetary agreement would be reached, but that business was gone. For a business focused on growth and revenue, as most are, t his was a huge blow. The former partner had devised this plan with another employee my friend had brought to the table. Neither one of them knew each other before he connected them. He trusted both of these people and brought them together to help build what they all were trying to build. In a matter of hours, his faith and trust in those people was destroyed and they had to switch from growth to protect and preserve to cut their losses.
I feel my friend is like most people and he’s very much like me. Once you decide to put your faith and trust in someone, you go all in with that decision. You don’t second guess their motives and the conversation becomes “how” you’ll do something rather than “if” you’ll do it. The other alternative is to try to make it work while constantly keeping one on the exit door with a clear path to leave. Those business relationships hardly ever work. So it begs the question, how do you build a relationship you can truly trust and depend on when money is on the line?
There is no substitute for time.
Trust is earned, not given. The only way to earn it is over time. You need to experience the ups and downs of business with that person and see how they react. The key to a successful business relationship is actually very simple, you either decide it will work or you decide it won’t. Once doubt creeps in to your mind and you become unsure of the relationship, it is doomed. It may not fall apart tomorrow, but it will fall apart. You can have all the conversations you want and feel you share the game goals, morals and ethics, but you truly don’t know until they’ve been put to the test. It doesn’t matter how air tight your legal agreements are with someone, if the person does not have the intent to abide by them, the business is not going to work out.
Like any good relationship, communication is an absolute must. You need to constantly be addressing the opportunities and challenges of your business or cracks set in. If not addressed immediately and taken care of, those cracks become chasms. Soon thereafter, the chasms are too wide to bridge. Through this communication, you are also able to identify when your business goals and desires are no longer aligned. The right partner for you started 10 years ago may no longer be the right partner for you today. When that becomes apparent, the communication will bring that to light and the party to separating your business interests can begin with your trust in that person still intact.
How do you know when the fox has entered the chicken coop
Every time I have lost trust in a business partner I previously had trust in, I feel exactly like my friend did. The biggest question I ask is, “How did I not see this sooner?” So often when I go back and look at the situation without my blind trust and rose colored glasses, there were signs. For me, those signs are never at the forefront of my mind, they are the unsettling feelings in the back of my mind that I simply suppress and push aside with, “No I trust that person.” If I had started a conversation earlier when those feelings had come up, I believe I could have discovered the fractures of the relationship sooner. If someone now tells me or does something that I wouldn’t do, that’s a huge red flag and the beginning of a further conversation. If that conversation doesn’t lead to a full reinstatement of the trust, action must be taken.
“You can trust me!”
If someone ever tells me early in a relationship, “You can trust me”, the defensive systems go immediately up. I tell them straightaway, “I’m really sorry, but you’ve now triggered my defenses. It’s not personal, but we’re going to need to slow down and I’m going to need proof and verification of everything you have told me.” The theory here is very simple, those who are trustworthy don’t have to say they are trustworthy. I’ve followed this rule for the past 15 years, after initially being taken advantage of by a charmer, and it’s served me very well. What are your trigger words?
Discuss the end at the beginning
Once you’ve decided to come together and do business with someone, the legal documents begin to get drafted. I learned long ago from a very wise and experienced client of mine that what’s written in a contract really doesn’t matter, you need to have confidence the person will follow through on their promises and abide by the agreement. I find a great way to determine if that person will follow through on their promises, is to have a very practical discussion on how the separation would work. “I know we have this agreement that has all these restrictions on you, but let’s set that aside for now. If this ever were to not work out for you or me, how do we see this dissolving?” If that other person is not willing to have that conversation and simply says “I’m a person of my word” or “trust me”, that’s a huge red flag. It’s not about trusting that this business relationship will work, it’s about trusting that if it doesn’t work both parties will work to resolve it as amicably as possible.