Judgment Calls: A Framework for Thinking on Your Feet

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Global Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

It’s hard for alliance managers to see around every corner. No amount of preparation will enable anyone spearheading a collaboration to anticipate every possible scenario. Simply put, surprises happen. Although personality—namely being composed and cool under fire—can often dictate the success of managing through sudden, disruptive change, there’s actually a framework that can help with it, too. 

Or as Neil Blecherman, CSAP, technology alliances and partner program director at Nutanix, put it at the 2024 ASAP Global Alliance Summit earlier this spring, there’s a structured way to practice “the skill of thinking on your feet, which can be turned into a single word: judgment.” In fact, he delivered a presentation with the very name, “Sharpening the Essential Skill of Judgment in an Alliance.”

Blecherman regaled the audience with his “five-box” method, which calls for alliance managers to think through: 1) past events leading up to the situation, 2) what changed so suddenly in the present, 3) the outcome goals for the immediate future, 4) your company’s values, and 5) your personal values.  

Using four case studies—one of which had nothing to do with corporate alliance management—Blecherman demonstrated how this methodology helps individuals through sticky situations. 

Homing In on Personal Values Like a Heat-Seeking Missile

The first of these cases involved Stanislav Petrov, a former lieutenant colonel in the old Soviet Union, who on one September day in 1983 saw an indication of a US missile attack flash before him on his satellite monitoring screen. In the context of a very contentious past relationship between the two countries, which had just been exacerbated by the Soviet Union’s decision to shoot down a South Korean airliner carrying American citizens a few weeks prior, Petrov had to determine whether to press the button that would alert the Kremlin to launch a counterattack. 

While the Soviet Union’s values emphasized defending the country at all costs and incentivized Petrov to move forward with a counterstrike—“he's rewarded to protect Russia by pushing that button,” said Blecherman; “he's not rewarded to have judgment”—a fact-finding mission led Petrov to overrule that course of action. First, Petrov found no vapor plumes. Second, the satellite reading showed only five American missiles— Petrov figured “‘they would attack us with a huge influx of missiles,’” in Blecherman’s retelling.  

“He did not push the button. He was fired from the army because the Soviet Union did not want to acknowledge that their new satellite system didn't work,” Blecherman revealed. “Personal values: this is what drove his judgment.” 

Hungry? You May Have to Humbly Eat Your Words

Blecherman’s next case study involved a high-functioning partnership with a startup that had proved to be a business, technology, and cultural fit with his organization. This small company was “adopting our technology very aggressively,” according to Blecherman, and was eager to showcase Nutanix’s next developments to its clients. 

Blecherman’s employer threw the partner a curveball by delaying its product roadmap, which resulted in broken promises to the ally’s customers. 

“They were understandably very upset,” Blecherman said. 

With this harmonious past giving way to a tumultuous present thanks to the changes in product timing, Blecherman’s team determined that the immediate desired outcome was to protect Nutanix’s champion at the partner organization and their clients’ interests at all costs. Driven by a company culture characterized by being “hungry, humble, and honest with heart,” Nutanix decided to give the partner early access to its technology, despite the fact that granting this privilege “required a lot of work on our part,” recalled Blecherman.  

Doubling Down to Get Intel Inside

The next case study differed from the second in that the relationship between the partners was already shaky before a wrench was thrown in the works. Blecherman’s former company Intel drew the ire of their large, global partner for one simple reason. 

“This company was focused around, ‘Who's buying from us?,’ and we were not their customer,” said Blecherman, a sentiment that was reinforced by the partner’s strong-willed, sales-focused culture. “We bought our software infrastructure from their main competitor.”  

Intel made a strong commitment to this partner, and that dedication was not reciprocated.  

“We had about 10 engineers on site with them helping build joint solutions. They were going to build their own data center and develop case studies around their own use of technology—and none of that would include Intel,” Blecherman explained.

Intel had a simple decision to make: “double down with competitors or double down with [the partner] and offer them more engineering, early access, and be more aggressive with them in our partnership,” Blecherman summarized. “We chose the latter.”

Why? Because Intel’s results-driven values stressed putting the customer first, fearless innovation, top-quality products and services, and high integrity. Also, Blecherman’s personal code emphasized driving value and working well with others. Both the company and individuals put their feelings aside and made the extra effort to make the relationship work. 

“We won back some of their business—not all, but some,” Blecherman noted.

Get Out of Jail—but Not for Free

Finally, Blecherman shared an unusual story of “industrial espionage.” This time, the power dynamics were heavily in favor of the partner; Intel needed this ally more than the partner needed the chip giant.

“We needed to negotiate a contract. The contract had a lot of revenue implications. There were just a lot of resources, dollars, and people on the table. We couldn't walk away, and they knew we couldn’t walk,” Blecherman said.  

In a turn of events right out of an episode from the television series 24, one of the partner’s employees hacked into a colleague of Blecherman’s laptop and attempted to send confidential information via that Intel team member’s email account. (Fortunately for Blecherman’s team, the email got stuck in the outbox and never saw the light of day.) 

Normally, the easy call would have been to turn the company over to the authorities, but Blecherman’s team needed this deal. Plus, they weren’t sure which partner employee committed this heinous act. Given Intel’s and Blecherman’s aforementioned values, the company again checked its ego at the door and decided to make it work—with a caveat. 

“‘We're not going to investigate further, but you're not going to put those people in a meeting again. Find other people for us to work with,’” Blecherman recounted his company saying to the partner. “And we closed the deal without those people involved.” 

Of course, Blecherman’s colleague was still left with the task of cleaning up the mess created by  this “security breach.” He and Blecherman had to prove they weren’t the ones who queued up that email, which led to Blecherman adding another tenet to the list of individual principles.  

“I added something to my personal values here, which is to stay out of jail,” he quipped.