Strategic partnerships are designed to have an impact—on lives, on sales, or any number of other indicators. So why go through the effort of finding a partner, co-designing a project, and launching your initiative without first developing a plan to see if it’s working?
Like any complex project, partnerships benefit from a structured approach to measuring outcomes, tracking progress, and capturing learning for adaptive management. This is what we call partnership performance monitoring—and it’s an essential aspect of any strategic collaboration. Here’s why:
- Partnerships need positive reinforcement. Monitoring and sharing the team’s progress toward goals is the best way to reaffirm the partnership’s importance—and to keep your stakeholders bought in when the going gets tough.
- Partnerships don’t manage themselves. Strategic partnerships, especially cross-sector partnerships, tend to broach complex issues or test new solutions. Monitoring progress helps partnerships stay on track and pivot where needed.
- Partners need to deliver. Partnership performance monitoring makes it clear when partners aren’t completing their agreed tasks. It can act as an objective tool to hold everyone (including you) accountable. For projects that demand collaborative action, empowering all team members to pitch in is critical to your success.
Performance monitoring plans help partners develop a framework and shared language for how to achieve their partnership goal—but only when those plans are well-designed and executed.
7 Steps to Improving Partnership Performance Monitoring
Below, we share our seven steps to help partners improve partnership performance monitoring—to track what’s right and fix what’s wrong.
1. Address Partner Motivations
While partners work toward a shared partnership goal, their motivations for doing so are almost always different. A donor might be interested in boosting youth employment while a company looks to test a new market for its products.
Understanding and mapping each partner’s motivations sets the stage for developing goals, results, and indicators that better align with partner realities.
2. Map Your Plan to a Clear Partnership Goal
A partnership goal is a clear and succinct summary of what the partners hope to achieve through collaboration. Understanding each partner’s motivation lays the groundwork for establishing this shared goal. The partnership performance monitoring plan should follow this goal, breaking it down into achievable, relatively bite-sized subgoals or results that will help determine when and how the goal will be met.
For the record, partnerships can have more than one goal. For each overarching goal, think about what is achievable in the short term (the results you hope to see)—and how that builds up to the larger change you hope to make.
3. Identify Partner Inputs and Activities
Partners collaborate because they need each other to reach their shared goals. They each contribute unique capabilities and strengths to push the partnership forward. These contributions, or inputs, include anything from funding to market access to local networks to technical expertise.
Your performance monitoring plan should define and track how each partner’s inputs and planned activities will advance progress toward the partnership goal.
In the partnership design phase—and after—the team should ask whether the planned inputs and activities reasonably add up to achieving the partnership goal. This perspective can help reveal critical gaps or weaknesses in the partnership.
Then later, you will track delivery of inputs and activities to measure partnership progress and hold partners accountable. This is one simple measure of whether a partnership is moving forward or standing still.
4. Map Inputs to Outputs–and Outputs to Results
Outputs are the tangible products of partnership activities—the trainings delivered, reports drafted, new products launched.
For some, performance monitoring stops at outputs. But outputs are not results. Results show how your outputs have (or have not) advanced your partnership goals.
Result measurement is highly specific to the goals you hope to achieve. If 300 people attended a training, did they actually change their behavior in a way that aligns with your partnership goal? If 2,000 people signed up for your digital health app, did patient outcomes improve? Were hospitals less overwhelmed?
Map your outputs to attributable, measurable partnership results—and then make sure they convincingly ladder up to your goal.
5. For Data Collection and Monitoring, Keep It Simple
The golden rule for effective partnership performance monitoring is to keep it simple.
Plans that are too onerous, time-consuming, and costly are soon discarded, especially when multiple partners are involved. Look for ways to keep monitoring manageable and targeted to what you most need to know.
When it comes to planning data collection, be sure to account for cost, access, and timeliness. If your metrics are too costly or difficult to measure directly, track proxy indicators that correlate with those metrics. For metrics that can only be measured after the fact, brainstorm ways to reduce the lag time between partnership activities and data collection. The shorter the time between the activity and data collection, the more effective decision making can be—particularly while partners are iterating on their approach.
6. Keep an Eye on Partnership Health
A critical component of a partnership performance monitoring plan is assessing the health of the partnership itself. Government agencies, global companies, startups, and NGOs all have very different organizational cultures, goals, and structures. It’s easy for partners—especially cross-sector partners—to misunderstand one another, which can lead to bigger problems with partnership performance as time goes on.
Developing a partnership fitness framework can help you keep tabs on the strength and standing of your partnership (see Resonance founder Steve Schmida’s book, Partner with Purpose, for more on developing a partnership fitness framework).
For smaller projects, periodically talking through issues and clarifying activities may be more than enough to keep the partnership’s health on track. But for larger, multi-stakeholder partnerships, consider setting regular touchpoints, pulse surveys, or collaborative workshops to keep everyone on the same page.
7. Practice Adaptive Management in Partnership Implementation
The more complex the partnership, the more likely things will not go according to plan. Adaptive management is a framework for making decisions in the face of unknowns, then monitoring the relevant systems to reduce uncertainty and make more informed decisions over time. It’s another crucial aspect of a partnership performance monitoring plan—and the one most likely to deliver impact.
Create a system for building lessons learned and key insights from your monitoring efforts back into partnership implementation. Critical questions to ask are:
- Are we implementing according to plan?
- Are our activities and inputs leading to the intended results that we expected to see?
- Are we correctly targeting our activities?
Dig deeper if the answer to any of these questions is “no.” Conduct interviews, user surveys, or evaluative exercises to understand more about what is going on and how the partnership approach might be improved.
At its essence, a partnership performance monitoring plan is a tool to help your collaboration deliver on its promise for impact.
Ensure Effective Collaboration with Partnership Performance Monitoring
A performance monitoring plan is a critical tool in partnership development. Design your performance monitoring plan before your partnership launches, in collaboration with your partners, and adjust as needed as the partnership evolves. If your partners are on the same page about what a successful engagement looks like, you can monitor, learn, and adapt to better achieve success.
If you’re not sure how to get started, Resonance can help. Get in touch with a partnership development expert to learn more about partnership performance monitoring.