June 26th, 2013 | 1:00 pm

Relationships are Everything in Businesses

filed under Expert Answers

JohnKeyserContributed by John Keyser

Relationships matter. If someone trusts us, respects us, has confidence in us and wants to work with us, that can go a very long way to ensure our success. And we must realize that we must earn and continue to earn that trusting relationship, every day.

My experience as an executive in the corporate world and now leadership consultant and coach to CEOs and senior executives in businesses and nonprofit institutions, is that too few in senior management realize that relationships with those who choose to do business with us, our external clients, are vitally important, of course – and so are our relationships with the people within our organization.

Our relationships with our people are every bit as important! They both are top priorities! As the renowned management professor and expert Tom Peters said some time back, “Take good care of your people and they will take good care of your clients.”

The business world is so demanding today. When I was growing up, my father got to his office 8:30 and left at 5:30 and did not bring home hours of work each night and each weekend, as most of us do today. We work in a super competitive environment with pressure on fees charged and profit margins. In the past, companies dictated to clients what their fees would be. Those days are long gone.

And today we have to do more with fewer people.

As managers, hopefully as leaders, we have to drive for results. Absolutely. That is certainly true if we are with a publicly owned company and have to meet 90-day financial targets. And if we’re with a privately owned company, the pressure is still there. Certainly, there are the needs to focus on numbers and also our relationships with our clients, or we risk losing them.

What some senior managers fail to realize is that we must also focus on our internal relationships – and not just with our chief executive, operating, financial, technology, marketing, talent management, human resource and other chief officers.

Earning Leadership

We must earn the admiration, respect and trust of everyone in our companies. If we don’t, we’ll have high turnover, and those that stay with us will likely lose their passion and put a little less into their work. Bad morale is a disease to organizational spirit.

Our challenge is to make time to do everything, and that is a quite a challenge, no question, but it is our job and our duty.

We have to spend less time in meetings and more time out of our offices, being with our people, acknowledging and thanking them for their good work, and very definitely asking them for their ideas and advice. We’ll learn so much! And they will feel valued and heard, which is so important for morale!

There is a huge difference between knowing someone and having a solid relationship. It’s the nature of our relationships that matters.

To really develop a solid relationship with mutual respect, we must spend time with that person – in conversation, asking about them, listening carefully, and being genuinely interested, supportive and caring. Our people need to know that we, as the CEO, or senior management, or their boss are there for them, to help them learn, grow and succeed.

Earlier this year, I wrote a paper entitled “Conversations are the Work of a Leader,” borrowing the phrase from Susan Scott’s wonderful book, Fierce Conversations. I received appreciative feedback from a great many executives for the reminder of their duty to be out speaking with the people who are actually doing the work of their companies. This is one of many reasons why businesses would do better with women sharing significant management and leadership responsibilities. They tend, in general, to be more naturally inclined towards conversations, relationships and thinking about the team. (There are, of course, many exceptions, for some women, this is not their strength, and some men are excellent at this.)

Just last week I interviewed Christine LaSala for the book I am writing. Chris is certainly one of the most successful business leaders I have known. When I asked her about her effectiveness in motivating and aligning people, Chris said it was speaking with dozens of people – every day!

And I remember well how Betsy Balderston, another exceptional leader, would invest time in conversations, explaining expectations, asking about and offering help as needed, and letting each person know that she cared about them and their success. And it is not just women that stand out to me for their emphasis on conversations and relationships. I have a very long list of men and women whom I greatly admire for their quiet ability to inspire their colleagues and team members.

We want our people to be aligned, excited about their work, and having admiration, respect and loyalty toward senior management. Think of and treat our people as our internal clients. They are truly vital to our success.

We absolutely must build and maintain solid internal relationships to sustain a winning organizational spirit and outstanding results. Know that even short conversations that show our interest and genuine care are better than no conversations, so let’s do our very best. Walk the halls! And watch the positive effect this has on morale and productivity.

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership, www.commonsenseleadership.com. He works with executives helping them develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, and a striving for continuous improvement, theirs and their team’s.

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