Leveraging Collaboration

Sobering numbers three years ago stimulated actions I’d wanted to pursue for over a decade.  The Oregon State Marine Board was right in the middle of a precipitous slide in registrations. Solutions to right the ship were few. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wasn’t far behind as they watched their tag sales decline along with fishing and hunting licenses.  The importance of all these declines is they are the principle funding tools for these agencies.

Government agencies generally aren’t responsible for correcting industry trends.  At least three years ago that wasn’t the case.  Of course with huge bailout monies cascading into the national economy as “stimulus” that model’s changing.  Certainly, in Oregon the case had often been that government sees to some regulatory infrastructure or mitigation but it’s on industry’s shoulders to perk participation and business opportunity.

I had long seen opportunities in the private sector and in government for collaboration.  Collaboration that plays to the strengths of each involved.  “Strength in numbers” resonates here.  I have, in large part, staked my professional career in finding these synergies, crafting mutually beneficial solutions and bringing the various players to the table to pool our respective talents and resources for the good of each other.  It’s worked dozens of times and continues to be my strongest advice in most business opportunities.

Thankfully, this vision of collaboration isn’t held soley by me.   In the case of the Marine Board and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife people like Marty Law (I&E Manager for the Marine Board), David Lane (ODFW) and Roger Fuhrman (ODFW) also value this approach.  In fact, there’s rarely a day goes by that I don’t find like-minded people eager to collaborate in a manner that considers and benefits all involved.

The issues that faced the Marine Board were daunting.  The local and regional boating industry had labored to build trade associations aimed at growing the market but those efforts sputtered and stalled as resources waned and a collective vision proved difficult to harness.  Fairly, these businesses recognized something needed to be done…but what that was and who would be responsible was an ongoing challenge.  All of these players had plenty going on in their businesses and could scarcely afford to risk their time to launch a campaign of any meaningful magnitude — no matter how much it may benefit their respective business.

Marty Law made the call and got the ball rolling.  He worked with fish and wildlife and they quickly got on the same page.  They found partners, created a plan, sold the plan, executed it and watched what had been a half decade spiral stop and actually improve…albeit modestly.  This, under the cloud of what’s widely recognized as the most difficult economic climate of the past half century.

At the heart of this campaign is collaboration.  Both the Marine Board and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife identified what they could lend to the campaign, what they were good at and went to work understanding how each could benefit from the effort.  This collaboration has now drawn in State Parks and Travel Oregon, Oregon’s tourism agency, in new and innovative approaches bent on benefiting all involved.  In this model each entity plays to their strength, is able to participate at reduced cost and enjoy enormous upside potential because of the collaboration.  In a time when government is scrambling to pare budgets and reduce spending these initiatives make tremendously good sense.

What the private sector can learn from this government experiment is that these entities understood they had common customers they could share.  Their respective agency footprints overlapped as various State Parks were in close proximity to popular fishing destinations that were also popular boating getaways that provided considerable tourism opportunities.  Rather than sitting at the table and saying “no”…these agencies found ways to say “yes”, and in doing so are creating a new and enviable model of collaboration we can learn from.

Look around at your vendors who, in part, are depending on you to be successful.  Are you getting everything you can from each other?  Are there ways you can get them to drive more business to you and in return you’ll drive more business their way?  Are there other businesses you can collaborate with?  Have you even looked?

I strongly believe this is a new and valuable business model going forward.  I impress it on our vendors in the hope they share it with the companies they’re doing business with.  The economic landscape will likely be rough for awhile and it’s this kind of thinking…strength in numbers…that will carry us over the hump.

What’s particularly clear to me having witnessed the strides made by Fish and Wildlife and the Marine Board.  Once you post some wins it’s easy to get behind this approach.  As I look around at other businesses that are flourishing right now — and there are several — it’s precisely this approach that’s enabling their success.  I’ve watched completely impressed by a nearby video production company that sailed through 2009.  Video production, a highly competitive category that suffered some serious downturns last year, yet this company grew, hired people, started new companies and are thriving thanks to visionary leadership that’s become expert in collaboration.  They chose not to go-it-alone instead opting to find new partners, markets, opportunities that were essential in their growth during a recession.

In the next week I’ll be making a call to a new and large prospect thanks to a printer and I’ve been invited to a meeting the following week that holds considerable promise compliments of a magazine I work with.  I’m quite sure the following week will present equally compelling opportunities because of my willingness to collaborate and work cooperatively with other like-minded businesses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *