Convincing a Skeptical Owner to Partner

Hi Rob,

I am the Operations Manager with a Prime Contractor and I would like to use partnering on an upcoming transit project, but the Owner is skeptical of the process. What do you recommend I do?

- Collaborative Contractor

Dear CC,

Sometimes to launch a partnering effort it is necessary to "sell" key stakeholders on using the process. The best way to achieve this is by understanding their objections. Once you identify the core issues, you can work to address them. You may also want to share the successes others are obtaining through partnering. IPI can help by providing you with additional information and matching your owner with others who are achieving success.

Here are a few common "objections to partnering" and some questions to ask so you can better address them:

1. I don't like "touchy-feely stuff"
Questions to Ask:
What do you mean by touchy-feely?
What has been your experience before?

When someone is concerned about Partnering being too "kumbaya" you can say, "I know what you mean - I didn't think that I would like it either, until I attended a partnering workshop and it wasn't anything like that. We actually set goals, made commitments, and resolved issues in the meeting." Partnering is most successful when it is practical and it feels like time is well spent, so make sure to select a strong professional facilitator.

2. It's too expensive
Questions to Ask:
What do you think our partnering process might cost?
Have you ever had a job that went sour? If so, how much time and money was tied up in resolving claims after the job was completed?

Typically, a complaint about "cost" is often an excuse, rather than the core issue. The core issue is "fear" about spending time in meetings or possibly losing control over decision-making on a project. When your executive team proves they are committed to giving time and energy to the process, your stakeholders will be much more inclined to join in. If you address the real core issue, you can likely convince a stakeholder to give partnering a try!

3. We tried it before and it didn't work
Questions to Ask:
When did you try Partnering? What happened?
What do you think contributed to the failure?
Did your process include follow-ups or was it just a single meeting?
Do you think if everyone on the project just got to know each other better and understood how decisions would be get made, it would help?

Certain stakeholders will be resistive because they tried Partnering on a project before, but it "didn't take". We have found that if a team attempts a kick-off meeting only, or only tries to partner once a large monetary issue comes up, the process rarely works. The fact is, to make Partnering work you need a structured process over the life of the project. This has been learned from thousands of projects over the past 20 years. When your team holds a kick-off partnering session with a professional facilitator, follows up with quarterly meetings and uses a monthly project scorecard, your team is showing its commitment to developing a collaborative team culture. The likelihood that your team will be predictably successful will go up tremendously.

Remember, it is not necessary to convert the owner completely - your task is to get the owner to a place where they are "willing to give it a try". The key is to ask enough clarifying questions so you can understand what their core issues are so you can best address them.

Nothing sells partnering to an Owner like another Owner!

And, finally, nothing sells an Owner like another Owner. IPI has formed an Owner-Mentor Partnership Program to help you with this process! This is a group of Owner Representatives who have volunteered to assist fellow owners who are contemplating the adoption of a partnering process. A third-party recommendation from a respected colleague is often the best way to sell a new idea - and IPI is here to assist you.

To learn more about the Owner Mentor Partnership Program or for more information about overcoming "barriers to partnering", please contact us or give us a call any time (925) 447-9100.


This column uses portions of "Partner Your Project" by Sue Dyer, pages 87-90 (1997). Copies can be found in our store, and all proceeds go to IPI!