It’s About Relationships

Posted: March 1, 2009 in Powerful Ideas

It is the quality of our relationships that will carry us through the tough economic times we are in. Economists, politicians, journalists, all of these people talk about society, organizations, and businesses as if they were objects that exist independently of people. They aren’t; they are merely abstractions in our collective mind. Only people are “real” and it is their relationships that create the impression that we are bathed in a world of organizations.

It is crucial that we understand the power of relationships: Who we choose (or don’t choose) to live with; how we live with them; how we work with others; the relationships we have with clients and buyers for our products and services; or the people we serve in our capacity as members of public agencies and not-for-profit associations. All of these relationships can make our lives better, or they can make them worse.

There are three types of relationships that matter in these circumstances: personal, professional, and corporate. Corporate relationships are the ones between all providers of goods and services and their respective clienteles, regardless of whether they are profit-making or not, and public or private.

People want to do business with individuals and companies that they trust and whom they feel have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, I think we are entering an era of retrenchment and pessimism. This is just human nature. One of the reasons for the profound disgust with certain business figures these days is that the promises they made were broken and the values they seemed to represent no longer resonate with the wider society. When people lose their bearings, they want to fall back on familiar routines and deal with familiar faces.

I believe that the businesses and organizations that will succeed in the near and mid-term future are those whose leaders will be able to build and maintain the public trust. The leadership displayed by Michael McCain as CEO of Maple Leaf Foods during the listeria crisis is exemplary in this regard. We all know the power of a brand to convey an image of quality and consistency. But in this case, McCain was able to back that up with action. Through his transparency and sense of responsibility, he maintained his relationship with the company’s clientele and also with the wider public.

Next comes the professional relationship. Who do you work with? How do you work with them? Why do you work with them? These are critical questions, especially if employment is harder to come by. On the side of employers, it has gotten harder and harder to attract and retain quality employees. However, with economic difficulties come layoffs and higher unemployment.

Eliminating positions may be necessary for some, but other companies may take that opportunity to find the quality employees that have been hard to come by in recent years. Many companies are fighting tooth and nail to keep their teams intact because it took so much effort to build their organizations in the first place. Trusting relationships with key managers and great workers are what will allow companies and organizations to thrive and to be ready for opportunities that arise in this turbulent and dynamic environment. During the Great Depression, GE was able to avoid massive layoffs because they took a collective pay cut. When the economy picked up in the late Thirties, they were ready with because they had invested in R&D and had the organization to leverage the opportunities that appeared.

Last but not least are personal relationships. These are the most important ones to us as individuals. When times are tough, it is crucial that we be able to rely on others to support us and to encourage us. Conversely, we must be there for our significant others also. Family and friends can provide shelter from the storm and form the basis for our own strength, as long as the relationships are respectful and helpful.

Relationships are what an economy and a society are all about. When the relationships break down, we lose the trust and understanding of others, and it becomes more difficult to accomplish our objectives, whether collective or individual. As leaders, we must take the time to review, renew and refresh our relationships. We must take the opportunities we have to establish strong relationships with our clientele, our employees, and our loved ones, because that is what will help us to thrive in the face of rapid change, risk, and uncertainty.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

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