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Grow partnering as a discipline and practice across your entire organization from top to bottom

How can you turn make/buy/partner into a strategic capability throughout your organization? Practice!

This is an excerpt from “Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News,” published Nov. 14, 2017. Read more excerpts here.

Partnering must become a strategic capability for metro, local and regional news enterprises.

You know the old joke: “Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice.”

So: Question: How can you and your colleagues turn make/buy/partner into a strategic capability pervading your news enterprise? Answer: Practice. Specifically:

Top-down practice

In annual, strategic as well as more ad hoc planning efforts, your enterprise’s senior management team should require make vs. buy vs. partner choices. Indeed, it is good practice to set specific enterprise-wide objectives to be achieved through buying and/or partnering with others.

This discipline includes:

  • Crafting enterprise-wide objectives for capacity, capability, speed, risk, revenue and cost
  • Asking/expecting senior leaders to engage colleagues in proposing approaches to meeting those objectives through buy/partner alternatives
  • Establishing criteria* for evaluating make/buy/partner alternatives. For example, imagine you’re evaluating whether to make X yourself, buy X from others and/or partner with others to do X. Criteria for weighing each of those options turn on whether and to what extent each make/buy/partner option might best:
  • Expand our capacity to get X done
  • Add/tap into a core capability related to X that we do not have
  • Increase the speed with which X happens
  • Reduce, share or otherwise manage the risks related to X that we face in moving forward
  • Increase revenues and/or diversify sources of revenues related to X
  • Reduce or share costs or make costs more flexible
  • If buying or partnering emerges as the best choice, then using criteria for choosing among the enterprises (or individuals) from whom you might buy or with whom you might partner. These include gauging if and how any particular vendor or partner:
  • Has the skills and track record to deliver what is required
  • Commits to specific performance results as well as dedicating sufficient resources to deliver on those results
  • Will devote the management time and attention to deliver on the promises made
  • Will commit to pricing and/or risk sharing that are tolerable/affordable
  • Does not pose any unmanageable brand or mission problems

Bottom-up practice

Establish the expectation that make vs. buy vs. partner becomes routine for teams at every level of your enterprise. Ask teams to tailor the framework criteria to fit their particular contexts and to use them persistently (e.g. mini-publishers might analyze make/buy/partner options once or twice a year as well as whenever some new or different approach is being considered). Yes, it is important to establish parameters for what kind and how much risk front line teams can and cannot take absent senior management approval. But do not make these so narrow as to choke off the opportunity for everyone in your enterprise to learn about make/buy/partner through actually doing make/buy/partner choices.

* The thoroughness with which you evaluate the criteria should fit the context, needs and risks at hand. For example, outsourcing all newsroom coding to a third party demands more care than, say, experimenting with local celebrity chefs in an effort to build audience, revenue and brand value for food coverage. Outsourcing all newsroom coding – much like, say, outsourcing printing for the paper – requires careful due diligence by a team comprised of the newsroom, technology, marketing, ad sales, audience development, finance and legal. Experimenting with any particular celebrity chef might only require gauging food team (probably including marketing folks) confidence that Chef A will attract enough of the desired audience at a price that’s affordable.