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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Business Partnerships: Watch Out For The Halo Effect

And be careful of their Feet Of Clay ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 12/04/2023 @ 8:00AM

It's a reality that partnerships can, and frequently do, go sour. And, boy oh boy, when two people who have committed to each other fall out, sour can be the understatement of all time ...

Be careful with your business partnerships not to succumb to the Halo Effect!

Be careful with your business partnerships not to succumb to the Halo Effect!

copyright: nexusplexus / 123rf stock photo

The divorce courts are full of them; best friends since school can end up never speaking to each other and when a business partnership falls apart, all hell breaks loose.

Formalising the relationship legally, or having partnership agreements in place can help to simplify the termination of the agreement, but doesn't stop the relationships deteriorating in the first place.

A common reason given for a business breakup is that the other person did not live up to your expectations and that they let you down.

How can you have been such a poor judge of character and been so duped? And the other party is equally amazed that you believe they lied and besides, just look at the list of things you do that are on their list of "the things X does that irritate the life out of me".

Very often, the underlying reason is that like most humans, you fell for the Halo Effect. This phenomenon has been known of for a long time and is currently widely quoted in recruitment literature on how to choose the right candidate.

"Or more usually, how to avoid
picking a wrong 'un!"

I'm surprised it isn't quoted more often in other partnership relationships, as it has a long history. In 1920, a psychologist, Edward Thorndike, was investigating how army leaders assessed the qualities of the men under their command.

He observed that if a soldier rated as intelligent then he was also rated highly as being neat and a good leader. Equally, a soldier rated as irresponsible also tended to be marked down on their physique and energy. If these attributes were measured separately those correlations disappeared.

In other words, when rating someone, once we judge them favourably for one characteristic we wrap them up into a whole package of 'will be good at everything else' as well. We probably don't even test out those other capabilities and just believe we are right. No wonder they are amazed, they never said they could do that, we just assumed it.

An even earlier observation goes right back to the Old Testament in Daniel (2:31-33) where he interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue with a head of gold and feet of clay. This is the root of our expression 'Feet Of Clay'; it explains the strong emotion we feel when our judgement has proven to be faulty.

We translate the fault onto the other person as having let us down as this preserves our personal image as a good judge of character. They lied rather than we made an error.

"So let's turn from general observations to how can you use this knowledge in your referral marketing!"

At the heart of our methodology is your inner circle of referral partners. These are other business people to who you have agreed to have a formal (albeit not legally binding) commitment to refer each other business.

When choosing people to work with at this level, you are investing more than just your time. You are committing part of your own success and, perhaps even more precious, your personal credibility.

Remember that this other person is applying the Halo Effect to you too and probably has expectations of what you can do that would astound you as you stand up there on their pedestal with your Feet Of Clay.

Now, these relationships, when working well, can generate incredibly good business for you, so they are worth the risk. However, you can mitigate the risk with a few precautions:

  1. Take your time getting to know someone on all sorts of levels.

  2. Write down each attribute they need that are essential to you committing to them in this way. Not a huge list, but your real non-negotiable ones, for instance, complete honesty or reliability.

  3. Write down the ones that if they exhibit these are a real show stopper, for instance promising to do something they cannot deliver or constantly arriving late.

  4. Test them out on these attributes independently of each other. Deliberately look for evidence to disprove your opinion and ask others too!

  5. Test out each new request against those attributes. Check capability and motivation on this new task even though they delivered something else perfectly in the past. For example, you might be able to trust someone to refer you, but they might be awful at following up on a referral you give them.

  6. Check their expectation of you. Be prepared to admit your weaknesses as well as strengths.

  7. Accept they are fallible and so are you. You are no better at judging character than anyone else. This other person does not have to live up to your fantasy. You both suffer from the halo effect and both have Feet Of Clay.

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more about the halo effect or your business partnerships, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help.

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