Strategic partnering with government? Snowball’s chance.

Talking about building strategic partnering relationships is the flavour of the month, especially in Defence where there always seems to be a search for a model that works better than what is happening now. I don’t think that is a bad goal, by the way, but we don’t seem to have come very far.

Achieving a strategic relationship between a vendor and a government buyer has a snowball’s chance of success if we do the same things we have always done. I have just experienced it again. A strong and laudable intent to establish a strategic partnership, bound to fail as it is using the same old contracts, is managed the same old way, and has the same performance criteria in place.

We dress change in the emperor’s new clothes: such as Defence’s review of the ASDEFCON templates, used as a foundation for many agency contracts. It was implemented by people who have had only one experience, that of a government buyer, relying on revolving door consultants who fail to bring any new experience to the table.

Snowball’s chance. If you don’t know what different looks like, how can you do something different?

In whose interest?
It is rare to see government-industry relationships that are true partnerships.

Partners have common goals, share risk, and have linked outcomes. Industry’s role is to sell, to separate government from its money in return for goods and services (I will grant, in most cases, this is done fairly). But the drive, in any business that is not privately owned, is to build value to the business, not value to government.

Their marketing might be to espouse purpose, their ethic in delivery might be high, and their work built on foundations of strong relationships. However, only select private ownership allows for owners to be driven by purpose, while broad ownership follows Nobel prize winning Milton Friedman’s economic theory that the purpose of business is to maximise profit for shareholders.

These are often good companies to engage with, but your interests are not their interests. Individuals, particularly those in the Defence industry who have transitioned from government to the private sector, often claim their over-riding focus is the best outcome for the buyer.

The art of building a partnering arrangement between government and industry is to find ways that align interests. It is easy to build statements that agree to partnering behaviours, but from an industry point of view, any partnering agreement with government will implement the essence of enlightened self-interest. That is, they will ask themselves “how can we support their goals in a way that helps further our interests?”