Donkeys And Racehorses: How To Find Winning Collaborative Partnerships

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In today’s economy, collaboration is key across all industries. From tech start-ups, to fortune 500 companies to independently owned brick and mortar retail outlets, American businesses embark on collaborative ventures on a daily basis and health care is no different.

Most business owners and managers recognize that collaboration is key to success, but they often miss one big, important caveat. The real key to business success, and supply chain efficiency, is in effective collaboration. All parties involved should come out ahead.

Technically, it is possible to “collaborate” with a florist when filing corporate taxes or to “collaborate” with an auto mechanic when purchasing medical supplies for your research facility. In both cases, the collaboration would most likely wouldn’t work. Collaboration is only as strong as the sum of it’s parts. With extreme examples like this, it is easy to weed out ineffective collaborators.  More often than not, unsuitable collaborative partners are difficult to identify.

At JR Healthcare Solutions, we refer to this as the ‘Donkey Problem’.

This problem, which occurs across all industries, was first pointed out to me back when I was starting out as a supply chain professional, working for a successful medical device manufacturer. I had just gotten off the phone with a client of mine and was sitting at my desk, frustrated.  This particular client, who we’ll call Bill (not his real name), was a real headache, constantly asking questions and demanding actions, all while offering the company very little business. One of the sales guys, Dave, approached me and asked why I was wasting my time on Bill.

This caught me off guard.

Wasting my time? 

I was a problem solver and a fixer. My job was to identify problems within the supply chain and then provide in depth solutions. Bill had plenty of problems, I had plenty of solutions, and even though he was frustrating, Bill was a paying customer with no outstanding debts. Plus, I was just getting started with the company and looking to burnish my reputation. How was I wasting my time?

“Bill’s a donkey,” Dave said. “Donkeys are stubborn. They never do what you want.  There’s only so many hours in a day, you need to invest your time wisely.”

Then, Dave turned to me and imparted valuable knowledge that I still rely on today.

“Look,” he said, “We’re growing 15% this year, and we need to grow 15% next year.  We need to invest our time in those customers that can give us that 15% growth.  Spending our time and resources on donkeys won’t get us there.  We need thoroughbred race horses.  An hour spent on a race horse can generate more results than a week with a donkey.”

After processing this information, I quickly realized he was onto something.

Don’t waste resources on donkeys.  They will absorb all your time and attention if you let them.  And, at the end of the day, they will still be a donkey.

That’s the Donkey Problem.

This concept became something of a parable within the ranks at our company, shorthand for an insidious version of the Pareto principal, where 80% of your effort, capacity, resources can be sucked away by the bottom 20% of your customers if you are not careful.  With every interaction, we started asking ourselves whether we were dealing with a donkey or a race horse and, just as importantly, whether we were acting like a donkey or a race horse from our business collaborators point of view.

“Are we working on the right thing?”

“Are we wasting time in an area that will never pay off?”

“How would my trading partners describe me and my company?”

“Are we race horses or donkeys?”

With JR Healthcare, we are trying to now take that a step further. Not only are we focused on picking our own partners wisely and presenting them with high value solutions, we also want to help company’s fall into the Donkey Problem trap with other third parties.

There is nothing to gain by wasting your company’s time and resources on a donkey that will never win the Kentucky Derby.

Don’t be a donkey.  Be a race horse.

The good news ? Picking winners for your collaborative efforts is not completely synonymous with a day at the races. Here at JR Healthcare Solutions, we rely on skill, not luck, when helping clients avoid donkeys and find their supply chain race horses.