The difference between partners and contractors

by Paul Farrell, Managing Director

There are two types of relationships in business and only one multiplies the rewards for both client and supplier: partnership.

The difference between a contractor and a partner show in the interactions people have with one another on either side of the project: contractors clock off at the end of the day and forget about your project as they walk out the door. They quibble over terms in the contract, making what should be an easy task officious and tedious. They withhold their experience and just get the job done to the letter of your order even if they could see a better way of completing the project.

Partners take a genuine interest in what you are doing in your project and treat it as if it were their own. Partnership between a customer and a supplier is the only type of relationship where 1+1 = 3, where if either party walked away from the relationship they would be less.

Partnerships are based on trust and care and it leads to consistent delivery and true alignment with your goals as an individual and as an organization. Partners don’t just come in for the day and walk out at the end – they invest time into understanding where you are going as an organization, but also challenging you.

I recently sat down with the owners of a client of ours and told them we don’t want to take another $150,000 purchase order from them. I didn’t think it was right for their business in the long run. While the directors of this business weren’t initially happy with their direction being challenged, they could see that it was intended to put them on the right path and get their product launched. We continue to work closely with this client and it is our goal to ensure their success, not just delivery of the project.


NGIS’ success has been built upon a foundation of trust with long term clients. Our brand slogan is “People Partnership Success” because we live it everyday in our projects to get the best outcomes for the people who do business with us.

True innovation can’t happen in a low trust environment. When teams aren’t appreciated and they are measured on delivering exactly what is on the contract and nothing else, there is no room to try new things when it can make a difference. Partnerships are give and take – where there is a dominant party over the other, there can be no partnership.

In a contractor relationship, not only does the environ for innovation not exist, it is more costly for the client. When risk of failure or delays will be reliably enforced by contract, chances to make big leaps through new approaches simply aren’t taken, which means the talent and experience of the external party remains unused.


If you want to get more out of the people who do work for you, there are a few things you should make happen:

  • Bring the partner into the business and help them understand where you’re going long term. It increases buy in from the partner and gives them the chance to hit the right notes with all your stakeholders. 
  • ​Give sufficient time for scoping the project you’re on. Any time spent here will be repaid in spades in ensuring your project is delivered to the true organisational goals, not just the written RFQ. When a partner really understands where you’re going they can make decisions to steer the project in the right direction and ensure less time is spent fixing mistakes during testing and so on.
  • Ask the partner what they think of your approach to the problem and what next steps might be. A stitch in time saves nine when something is built to be extensible. Sometimes it is just about asking for a fresh perspective.
  • Listen to the partner’s suggestions with an open mind when working out how to solve the problem at hand. Being new to your business, they might not hit gold at the beginning while they’re still learning, but over time suggestions will be more and more valuable
  • Celebrate shared success once the big project is over. Make an effort to let people know how and why the project was successful to build that feeling of mutual respect and appreciation. The next project will be even better for it.

About the author: Paul Farrell

Paul is the Managing Director of NGIS Australia.

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