“Relationships really matter when things go wrong,” said Pat Marantette, president at E.T. Horn Company. It was on a warm and sunny Southern California day that I visited Pat at his specialty chemical distribution facility in La Mirada. The purpose for my visit was to interview him in preparation for my presentation the following winter at the 29th annual meeting of the National Association of Chemical Distributors.
Pat spent a fair amount of time stating his case about relationships mattering most when things went south. Of my several hundreds of interviews, Pat was the first to put business relationships in such a light. And, he’s absolutely correct.
I have spent much of the past decade both researching and preaching the virtues and values of partnering and developing strategic alliances. Recently, as you know, our world changed—things went south in New York and Washington, DC. As a result, many industries, the airlines as a prime example, have been or will soon be devastated. At times like this, the quality of the relationships that management has built with their suppliers, customers and employees is quite transparent.
America’s Roller Coaster Ride
While we are living in a time of high technology, in times of heavy stress, high touch is crucial. Sure, there is plenty of the impersonal e-commerce, e-auction sites and industry portal sites, yet in turbulent times we fall back to the much-needed high touch. As America moves into uncertainty, a roller coaster ride for business and industry is assured. The best antidote for the motion sickness that accompanies high-speed ups and downs is rock-solid business relationships.
Norbert Oberz, founder, of the successful Sport Chalet sporting goods chain headquartered in La Canada, California built the foundation of his business throughout the 1960s and 1970s on the relationships he built. With his employees, he took care of them. He even bought up small houses close to the original Sport Chalet in La Canada for selected employee housing. With his customers, he delivered unsurpassed service and value. People always knew they would get a square deal from Norbert. And with his suppliers, he always paid them. Granted, in drought years it might only be five dollars every other week, yet he continued to pay in good faith.
Willingness To Lend a Hand
Visiting with Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one executive told a story of how the company helped a long-time dealer that was is big-time financial trouble—of the visit to the family home of the dealer and sharing options at the dinner table with the dealer and his sons. And how Steelcase helped that loyal dealer back into a position of strength in his market.
After writing three books and several hundred articles on partnering, alliances and business relationships, let me share 10 tips that will help you to keep your business relationships rock-solid.
1. Behave toward another the way you want them to behave toward you. Perhaps go even farther and behave toward them the way they would like you to. It is a subtle difference but makes a huge difference.
2. It’s more important to be a good partner and get things done, then to obsess on being right. Think about how many times another driver ran a light or made an illegal lane change into your lane. Sure, if they hit you it would be their fault because you were in the right, but you got out of their way. Why did you do this when you were right? Because you did not want to put yourself in danger or go through the trouble of dealing with the other driver’s insurance company. It is the same idea in the business environment. Just focus on getting things done.
3. Make relationship bank deposits before you try to make withdrawals. Can you just walk into any bank and instantly get $100,000 simply by asking? Perhaps with a ski mask and some deadly hardware you can, but realistically, you probably can’t, as they don’t know you. If you have a relationship with a specific bank, perhaps you can. The relationship most likely would consist of a loan or a credit line, one or more accounts and a history. That is your relationship bank deposit with that specific bank. It is the same thing with all relationships; you must do some giving before you can expect to do some receiving.
4. Regularly share relationship value updates with those whom you have a relationship. This consists on putting on paper the value you believe you are receiving, the value you believe they are receiving and ideas to make the relationship better. As I stated, commit these three elements to paper, ask the other party to do the same and then switch documents. This is a safe conduit for evaluating the value of your relationship and not getting personal in the process.
5. Know what others need. It is literally impossible to create value for another company, organization or person if you don’t know what they hold as valuable. It is easy to get carried away is doing stuff for another as it feels so good. But, suppose what you are doing for them is valueless to them? They why do it? Just to make you feel better? Your energies could be better spent in creating the kind of value (perhaps service) the other could use.
6. Be clear about what you want from your relationship and what you are willing to give to it. The idea of unrealistic or unstated expectations rings loudly here. How can another (organization or person) do for you if you are unwilling to be open about your needs? Also, from the start, be upfront about the level at which you are willing to participate.
7. Be committed; always show your confidence and passion toward your relationships. This applies equally toward a person or organization. Maybe they need to see your level of commitment before they are willing to state theirs? It does not work to be “in” the relationship when it is convenient and “out” when it is not. Sorry, you cannot ride the fence here.
8. I realize it is all too cliché, but do more for your others than you promised. Just like in a baker’s dozen (13), exceed their expectations. The problem with participating at the minimum level is that stuff happens and frequently things get in the way of completing things or actions in progress. Then you come up short-handed, falling short of your committed participation level. If you always do more, you will rarely deliver less than that of another’s expectations.
9. Resolve conflict immediately. Like a splinter left in your finger to fester and cause pain, personal or organizational conflict left unchecked is simply a time bomb waiting to explode. While it might seem easier to “let things be,” over the long haul, it isn’t. To effectively resolve conflict, focus on what matters and don’t worry about being right.
10. You can’t have a relationship with an organization or individual that doesn’t want one. Be honest, and ask yourself if a relationship is even possible. If you operate as if there is a relationship, partnership, alliance or anything else but there really isn’t—you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. As I have told thousands in my seminars, pick your partners well.
While I’ve shared my 10 tips for rock-solid business relationships with you, you have perchance guessed that they will also work for your personal relationships. Yes, you are correct. These tips will in fact make a vast difference in your personal relationships. If you need more help, visit my web site at www.Rigsbee.com. Enjoy the ride!
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.