Ending a
That Flopped
lishing company with a unique niche, poised for
partnership with two well-known authors (one of
this book’s authors) to create a brand-new train-
ing program—low cost, high quality, easy to use.
The company had so far published only text-
books and workbooks. This was to be their first
attempt to apply the book distribution model to
a packaged training program.
Their contract negotiation was seamless. An
advance was arranged, program specs clarified,
and one of the authors’ clients chosen to field test
the six-module program. Program development
went smoothly; the product emerged competi-
tively priced and attractively packaged. Everyone
was proud of the new “baby”!
But as the marketing phase began, so too
did the partnership death knell. The first sound
of impending failure was when the publisher asked for the
authors’ mailing lists. The request was not unusual; the desper-
ation in the publisher’s voice was. Because initial sales were
sluggish, the publisher’s communication became more terse;
the authors’ disappointment became more audible.
Finally, communication between publisher and authors all
but ceased. As the product went into the “slow inventory” ware-
house, everyone involved felt part of the partnership failure.
The company’s financial loss was equal to the authors’ waste
of sweat equity. No one was happy with the outcome.
At a trainers’ conference several months later, one of the
authors encountered a key executive from the publishing com-
pany. Their awkward rendezvous soon turned into a curiosity-
driven debriefing. What went wrong? How did they miscue?
What were the real reasons a partnership with such promise
ended with such disappointment? The postmortem diagnosis
soon became clear.
The publisher had assumed that the two authors would
carry the lion’s share of the marketing function, just as they had
done for product development. “After all,” said the publishing
exec in defense of his perspective, “you two have such great
contacts . . . and you’re well known in this specialty.” When
author-driven marketing failed to materialize, the publisher felt
betrayed by the authors. The authors were involved in several
other business partnerships and had assumed that once the
product hit the market, their marketing role would be more
passive than active—more support than leadership. They felt
abandoned by the publisher.
“If we had communicated up front the way we’re commu-
nicating now,” said the publishing executive, “we would not be
communicating now about what we’re communicating!” Both
agreed that each had ignored early signals that could have fore-
warned an impending stumble. Both agreed that they had not
been forthright about the concerns they were feeling. The pub-
lishing executive summed it up this way: “This partnership
could have worked. It’s a shame our expectations discussion
only covered our aspirations, not our assumptions. We were
both too timid for our own good.”
Our research on partnership revealed a special discovery:
endings can be as important as beginnings. Partnerships some-
times deteriorate to animosity because the partners are unable
to recognize ending signals and dance on after the music has
stopped. The ill-starred stoppage leaves the partners angry, bit-
ter, and reluctant to dance again. Sometimes partnerships just
peter out without anyone drawing the curtains. Adjournments
are as vital as auditions—whether closure comes because of fail-
ure or in spite of success.
Handling the Dark
Side of Closure
hen your partnership
fails, take a close look at your own footprints,” suggests Jack
Tester of Contractors 2000. “If you think it is over, look at your
motives, look at theirs, trust your gut, and pull the trigger.” His
advice to extract personal growth from a partnership failure
is wise counsel.
The key to avoiding the bitter side of ending a failing part-
nership is recognizing the signs of needed closure. There are at
least three forces that can precipitate this “sweet sorrow”:
Partner A wants the partnership to end, but Partner
B does not (or the reverse);
neither partner wants to end, but external forces
demand it; or
both partners want the partnership to end because
they recognize that it has failed and external forces
share their view.

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