What we think

PURPOSEFUL PARTNERING – Four calls to action

6th March 2020 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Speaking at the ICRS meeting on Partnerships for impact, I shared insights from our research and experience on four calls to action for purposeful partnering. 

  1. Break and remake the mental models in our organisations to deliver purposeful partnerships, not just rhetoric.
  2. Invest in and measure the impact of partnerships, not just programmes and projects. They are needed for long-term transformation.
  3. Diagnose, and actively manage, power in partnerships.
  4. Invest in partnership capacities – it takes a whole organisation.

A. Break and remake the mental models in our organisations to deliver purposeful partnerships 

Purpose needs to run through a partnership or an organisation from intention through to behaviours.  Behaviours are determined by the mindsets our partners hold, which are shaped by established mental models and frameworks established over years.  Misaligned mindsets can be fundamentally disruptive.  Our research in to mindsets indicates we need to break and remake the mental models in our organisations and partnerships, to create new purposeful behaviours.  We need to…

  1. Re-examine the current mindsets:  Ask what’s stopping us achieving our purpose?  (e.g. Mental models such as NGOs can’t deliver, or corporates are only after profit) 
  2. Purposefully create new assumptions:  understand what is needed to deliver our purpose (e.g. Partnership is the only way we will transform this problem). 
  3. Establish a new framework of priorities and outcomes.  Based on new assumptions (e.g. Train, build capacity of partnering). 
  4. Demonstrate new behaviours:  (e.g. develop multi-functional team working across partners) 
  5. Lead and socialise: to celebrate and share new behaviours. 

B. Invest in and measure the impact of partnerships not just programmes and projects. They are needed for the long-term transformation. 

Transformational change doesn’t happen in the short term.  It takes long term partnerships, not just programmes and projects.  So measure the impact of the partnership, not just the specific programme.  Benchmark the power and participation of partners at the beginning; diagnose any issues; and measure how effectively they have been managed.  Explicitly investing in the success of partnership as well as our programmes and projects, is critical to achieving our purpose.   

C. Diagnose and actively manage power in partnerships. 

Some of the best advice we can provide about partnerships for impact comes from analysis we have done on power in partnerships.  Power dynamics are real and can destabilise a partnership, even with the best of intentions.   

1. Diagnose and deal with power in partnerships… 

  • Be honest about differences in financial resources and recognise all contributions to a partnership (innovation and communications expertise, resources, networks, expertise, and reputation). Only then can you leverage the non-financial values. 
  • Call out unachievable goals. Direct, honest communications are critical to successful, sustainable partnerships.  Train your people to manage conflict if necessary. 
  • Understand the difference between Project and Partnership Success. Avoid delivering one at the expense of another.  A strong partnership can learn and grow from failed as well as successful projects. 


There are tools that we can employ for balancing power: 

2. Start as you mean to go on with the set-up of the project. 

  • Communications, objectives, accountabilities, roles and responsibilities in a RACI.  

3. Develop transparency and shared decision making. 

  • Promote transparency, shared decision-making processes and learning.   

4. Incentivise and reward power sharing. 

  • Build shared rewards and incentivise power sharing.   

5. Formalise and support equal participation. 

  • Facilitate equal levels of influence, with support and processes. Page Break 

D. Invest in partnership capacities – it takes a whole organisation. 

Organisations are committing to purpose and transformational change that requires partnership. However, there is still an intention-action gap. It takes a whole organisation to deliver transformative partnerships, not just our professional partnering colleagues.  We need clear consistent leadership on purposeful partnerships, investing in the people and the enabling environment for partnership working across all actors.  

By Rachael Clay 

Tackling Power Imbalances in Partnership

16th October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Power imbalance - stijn-swinnen

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

Power dynamics can destabilise a partnership, even with the best of intentions.  Diagnosis is the first step to rebalancing power for effective partnerships. Mastering mindsets for partnerships will help to tackle power imbalances in partnerships but more explicit efforts are necessary to anticipate and manage the impact of power in partnerships. 

Diagnosing power imbalances 

  1. Be honest about differences in financial resources and recognise all contributions to a partnership. This will enable partners to take account of all values in negotiations and decision making and mitigate for potential asymmetries in power.  
  2. Understand the difference between Project and Partnership Success. A Project can achieve desirable outcomes for participants yet fail to achieve mutual benefits to partners. Approach partnerships knowing the desired project and partnership outcomes, to ensure that one does not come at the expense of the other.  
  3. Call out unachievable goals. Setting unrealistic expectations can cause projects to falter, and can cause partners to default to entrenched power positions.  Realistic goals are needed to balance power relationships effectively. 

Balancing power for productive partnerships  

  1. Communicate effectively from the onsetBe explicit about the objectives, accountabilities, roles and responsibilities to capture power and potential from the outset.  Then actively invest in deriving the individual partner and mutual benefits from the partnership. 
  2. Emphasise the value of non-monetary resourcesJust as corporate partners might have innovation and communications expertise, as well as access to sizeable resources, NGO’s can highlight the significance of their networks, expertise, and reputation for the project’s success. 
  3. Promote transparency: bring all relevant stakeholders in the partnership together in one forum and within an agreed process. Publicise and record activities so that non-participating stakeholders can understand the responsibilities of each party.  
  4. Establish shared and transparent decision-making processes. This will prove vital in ensuring equal influence as the project progresses.  
  5. Create an environment of shared learning. By creating feedback loops through evaluations or reports, partners can discuss whether the project has addressed each party’s individual interests. This process can help determine whether partners are benefiting proportionally and, if not, how partners can improve their performance.  
  6. Build shared rewards. Learn from industry models. We know that businesses, where employees and shareholders receive a shared reward, are more likely to thrive.  
  7. Incentivise power sharing.  Examples from workplace bargaining suggest that an influential partner will relinquish control of a process when incentives exist. This could include better outcomes from the partnership or greater access to partner assets. 
  8. Provide formal procedures to facilitate equal levels of influence. Offer methods of support for partners with less financial influence to encourage their equal participation.  
  9. Formal, institutional arrangements are vital for power balances. Co-determination in corporate governance models—in which employees have the formal opportunity to participate in their firm’s decision making—leads to great balances of influence. Encourage participation by local actors. When possible, attempt to support locally controlled finance mechanisms to balance financial influences. 
  10. Develop a RACI (responsibility, accountability, consulted, informed) framework for the partnership to ensure partners are actively engaged.  The more of a personal stake people feel they have in a partnership, the more responsible they will feel for ensuring its success.iii 

Power imbalances are inherent in partnerships between organisations with different levels of monetary resources, expertise, dedicated people and influence within the sector. However, if imbalances go unchecked they can undermine trust and ultimately partnership success. Diagnosing the power imbalance and ensuring the value that each partner brings is recognised is a start. Beyond this, formal procedures can ensure decision-making processes are fully consultative and transparent so the influence of each partner is clear and shared learning and rewards can ensure partners benefit proportionally. Power can even be redistributed by incentivising power sharing and offering methods of supporting less financially influential partners. In these ways, equal participation and equal influence can be achieved. 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow and Rachael Clay 

iii Talking the Walk: A Communication Manual for Partnership Practitioners pg 19

Investments for partnership mindsets 

9th October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

 Investments for partnership mindsets

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Partnership is essential to achieving the SDGs yet an intention – reality gap exists. Organisations, whether NGO, Company or institution, have this as a stated priority.  Professional partnership teams are working hard to hold together relationships, but it takes a whole organisation to deliver transformative partnerships.  There’s a troublesome investment deficit in partnerships. Partnership management is often approached intuitively and can succeed or fail based on the abilities of individuals involved with little training or supportPartnerships are getting by, but we need clear consistent leadership on partnership, investment in skills and mindsets shifts and the right kind of culture and enabling environment for partnership working across all actors. 


Leadership is needed to set ambitions for large scale transformational partnerships, not just for funding, but for change, as well as expecting every part of an organisation to develop its capacity to deliver in partnership.  It is a challenge to build the capacities, systems and approaches to deliver in partnership but one that leadership need to invest in.  


We expect people to partner productively whether from business, NGO or institutionglobal or local, small or large organisation. However, the paradigms people operate can cloud their perspectives and behaviours.  Missed communication is commonplace.  Mismatched expectations are damaging.  Collaboration is constrained.  We need an investment in partnership skills and to nurture new mindsets in our partnership leaders and wider teams People need support to understand each other, develop shared value and deal with difference.  Only then can we engender trust and build resilient relationships and successful collaborations. 


Culture and style of an organisation are critical determinants of the enabling environment for partnership.  Leaders need to signal the changes and model behaviours that support the new mindset.  Using news tools and systems, resources and rewards can encourage and stimulate people’s interest in doing things differentlyiiThis takes strong and consistent leadership, focusing on transformational change, while being open on the means to achieve it, sharing success, mistakes and learning along the way.   

It is time that organisations recognise the investment deficit in partnerships. Let’s begin to invest in the leadership, skills, mindsets and culture to deliver transformative partnerships.  

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Rachael Clay

[ii] Gardner, H. (2004). Changing minds: The art and science of changing our own and other people’s minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Remaking Mindsets for Partnership and Innovation

3rd October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by s w on Unsplash

Photo by s w on Unsplash

Mindsets do not have to be fixed.  We can develop our mastery of mindsets for partnership, starting with self-awareness, awareness of others and self-regulation.  We first need to understand how we interpret the world and react to it, according to our own mental models.  Understanding the paradigms and mental models which guide the way we see ourselves, others and our work will help to explore how we can develop our mindsets (see diagram 1).   

Any level of organisation: a society, a profession, a company, or a partnership will have paradigms and mental models which influence the way we see things and do our work.  Bring a commercial organisation, and NGO and/or another institution together and the different paradigms can lead to fundamental misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Shifting mindsets requires us to challenge and reimagine the paradigm3 in our organisation or partnership to break and remake our mental models and inform new behaviours. 

Reexamine mindsets 

  • Take a fresh look at the problem/s you’re looking to solve. 
  • How is it new/different from the problem/s you faced in the past? How has the context changed? 
  • ‘Out’ your current mindsets (what are your current assumptions?). 
  • Do your current mindsets enable or disable your ability to solve the problem? 

Identify new assumptions  

  • Challenge old assumptions. 
  • Resist the temptation to adapt and refine, purposefully create new assumptions relating to the new context and problems you face. 
  • How does this change the relevance of your approach?

Establish a new framework of priorities and outcomes 

  • Redefine the issues you need to tackle. 
  • Drive out how your new priorities relate to your new assumptions ‘Because of this, we need to do this …’ 
  • Starting from your new assumptions, define the outcomes you want to see (these may be the same as previous outcomes, but the route to achieving them will be dramatically different). 

Develop behaviours to support a new set of assumptions and priorities 

  • Define behaviours which will enable you to successfully achieve your priorities. 
  • Lead with these behaviours to exemplify new ways of doing things. 

Consider new methods and systems 

  • Consider new methods and tools; how can you socialise and systematise a new approach in your organisation or partnership? 

Be prepared for dissonance and discomfort along the way. This is hard to do. Challenging your paradigm and reimagining your organisational or partnership mindsets, will ultimately lead to new ones, capable of spawning new approaches and creative ways of tackling the challenges ahead.  

Diagram 1:  How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms. 

How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms.

How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms.

  • Capra, F. (1996). The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor Books. 
  • Senge, P. M. (1990). The fth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow 

[3] Daryl Conner; Conner partners, http://www.connerpartners.com/frameworks-and-processes/the-movement-begins.



Personal Mastery of Mindsets for Partnership

27th September 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Mastering the 6 personal mindsets will help individuals and their organisations build healthy, enduring partnerships [insert link to blog 1 – emily to do once live]. 

The 6 mindsets for partnerships are complementary and require balance.  For example, an outcome mindset can feel forceful if not balanced with a shared value mindset.  An effectiveness mindset can be superficial when not balanced with a reflective mindset.  A solution mindset can be based on a skewed problem definition if not balanced with an openness mindset.  Think of the mindsets as a prismadapting to change the shape of partnerships.  

This week, we look at tools to develop four of the mindsets for partnerships and balance outcome and effectiveness mindsets with openness and shared values to help deliver healthy, long-term partnerships.   


1. Leaders take responsibility to build the partnership, not just the programme of activities, constantly modelling and managing behaviours. 

2. Take accountability for your role in the partnership and clearly specify the responsibilities of other individuals with sufficient detail to ensure each individual can follow through. 


  • Partnership visualisation:  Developing a vision for the partnership as well as the outcomes. 
  • Commitment setting:  Defining personal, partnership and programme commitments. 


1. Be open and honest about your intentions and goals: This will build trust and guide your partners’ future responses. Be clear and frank.  Leaving people to read between the lines can lead to misconceptions. Your behaviour and consistency is paramount. 

2. Build empathy and seek understanding:  Welcome feedback and differences in values and viewpointsBuild self-awareness of defensive behaviour and plans to mitigate it. ‘Out’ internal barriers and problems as soon as they emerge to protect against ‘rigid’ thinking. 

Openness tools: 

  • Internal communication plan 
  • Conflict management training 


1. Establish shared values: Develop shared ‘superordinate’ goals, which can only be achieved by working together.  You can reduce conflict and challenge by defining goals which aren’t ‘owned’ by individual organisations, but created together.  

2. Establish a shared set of rules or norms that function within the partnership to promote harmonious working and prevent rigidity and oppositional organisational styles. 

Shared value tools: 

  • Shared rules/norms for partnership 
  • Feedback loops:  formalised and regular mechanisms for feedback 

A partnership which is grounded in honesty and transparency may be uncomfortable at times but is more able to function smoothly and withstand disagreement.  Developing personal mastery of such mindsets takes practice, but with an openness to discuss outcomes, values and effectiveness comes truly effective relationship building.  Start talking today. 

Next week, we will explore the solutions mindsets and its relationship with openness and reflection mindsets for partnership innovation. 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow and Rachael Clay