All successful businesses, regardless of what they do or sell, have one thing in common: their leaders know how to build and maintain relationships. Let’s face it, relationships are the glue that holds a company culture together and ensures customer satisfaction is paramount. We can also refer to this as relationship capital, which as its name implies is an asset for your company that should be treasured, nurtured and grown.
10 steps to build a relationship capital rich company
Developing relationship capital should be a personal and intentional activity for all employees, not just the leaders. It is a known fact that people will buy from people and firms they Know, Like and Trust so when your culture is ingrained with an attitude of earning relationship capital then it is easy for other relationships to flourish.
Too often leaders get caught up in the details of the products or services they are selling to notice how critical it is to build and maintain relationships, not just with customers but also with vendors, colleagues, and even competitors. Without strong, agile, relationships, it is impossible to have a sustainable, successful enterprise.
To help carry you through the tough times and tight timelines, you must have long-term customers, loyal colleagues, and good vendor relationships. It is also helpful to have relationships with other business owners to share struggles, resources, best practices and possible collaboration that can really give you an edge. In reality, business relationships are just like any other relationship. They require effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial to be sustainable. One of the keys to making them work is, you must be willing to give, share and support, not just take or receive.
Relationship capital cannot survive for an extensive period if it is phony or manufactured. It will be discovered; employees and customers will leave for somewhere they can find the real thing.
Often times it isn’t that you don’t care about some of your relationships. It’s just that you get so busy that you don’t realize how much time has gone by where you have not reached out and touched some of your colleagues, customers, vendors or suppliers.
This is an easy mistake for any leader, who feels like every day is shorter than the last. Your failure to put enough effort into nurturing relationships can cause them to wither away or fracture. So how can you ensure you have a company that is constantly building relationship capital. Let’s look at some ways to build a culture that is constantly focused on nurturing relationship capital:
Physical Steps that should be taken:
Develop, purchase or integrate a CRM and HR program where you can store information on your colleagues, clients, vendors and business peers. Use these databases or programs to document conversations, both personal and professional, that individuals have with each vital relationship. This really helps with continuity and provides insight facts and information about each person so you don’t have to rely totally on memory. Yes, it will feel mechanical at first, but it will prove to be an efficient method to ensure that no one fell through the cracks.
Allow people to schedule time in theirs daily routines so that they dedicate a portion of their day to doing nothing but reaching out and maintaining their professional and personal relationships. Doing this will help you have strong long-term customers to keep the pipeline full, loyal colleagues who will be brand ambassadors and a good group of vendors and business peers dedicated to helping each other succeed.
These actions are great tips for any leader to adopt as their own but it needs to go beyond them. By providing an example and providing supportive policies, your enterprise will embrace an attitude of building relationship capital.
Here are some additional tips on how to build relationship capital that will last.
Always Encourage Honest Feedback
Any open, honest relationship demands clear communications of how each party is performing. Transparency is being driven home by social media so it is critical to incorporate it within your culture. Encourage constructive criticism and be brave enough to suggest ways clients, colleagues and vendors can help your firm perform better. If you know where you stand, you can stand stronger or you can determine where you need to move to for improvement. Do you track your ability to keep commitments personally and professionally? Do you allow your colleagues to track their commitments? It is surprising how many people treat commitments as expendable.
Always Listen More Than You Talk
So often we become preoccupied with wanting to highlight our strengths and our virtues in hopes of impressing others and, ultimately, getting more business. It’s counter-intuitive, but being a good listener highlights your virtues much better than being a big talker.
What sets you apart should be the time you take to listen to clients and colleagues and really understand where they are coming from. It can be a real advantage if they see you as a sounding board, and a few even called him better than a shrink! That’s the kind of behavior that leads to referrals, employee engagement, and long-term business success. You will be surprised how this simple step can bolster your relationship capital. Make notes about what people are saying, use your tools to help remember them so you can take advantage of that wisdom.
Simplify and Streamline
Create a system to ensure that you allow for touching base with your various stakeholder groups, such as the formal database we discuss before. Social media tools these days such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, make if very simple to stay in touch but making it meaningful is up to you. Following up on your commitments is a great way to ensure that these contacts are meaningful. When was the last time you found someone objecting because you followed up to see how a product or service was working? Teach your colleagues this same attitude and be the example to really enhance everyone’s relationship capital.
Exhibit High Integrity
As a leader, it’s important that people see you as an expert in your field or that you know where to go within your organization to get the right answer. When you’re asked questions you don’t know how to answer, always say so, don’t try to bluff your way through it. Typically, people will really appreciate your honesty. And that lays the foundation for a great relationship. Being the example, also creates the basis for your colleagues to do the same thing which further ensures that depth of relationship capital each of your colleagues can earn and share.
Always Add Value
Be sure to engage conversation with your relationships when you are NOT in need of something. Be honest in asking how they are doing and what is working for them. Take time to learn about their business, job or family since it’s as important to them as your business to you.
Take a minute to understand your client’s, colleagues or vendors dreams and provide opportunities for them to fulfill this whenever possible. As a coach, whenever I have someone on the phone I try to understand what they’re trying to achieve with their business or life. Many times there will be an opportunity that I will actually refer them to someone else that I think could help their business. I don’t look to gain anything from many of these referrals. Clients and colleagues really appreciate it when they realize that you’re looking out for them.
Keep detailed notes on everyone you meet. When you get back to the office, enter those notes into your address book or contact system. Later, you will want to be able to enter keywords like ‘sailing’ or ‘wireless’ or ‘French’ and find all the people you know who match that keyword. Doing keyword mining on your own contacts will pay dividends for years.
Using your journal and knowledge of your relationships, forward articles, links and other information that might be of interest to your relationships. Teach all your colleagues to do the same. Encourage them to build internal relationships and client relationships where they can add value.
When I see interesting news stories I forward them to people who I think would find them relevant. It takes less than 30 minutes each morning to send out a handful of these. Do it every day and the care and feeding of your network will be alive and well. It also results in relationship capital for the person and the company.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and transparent. Let people see who you are. It builds trust and respect. Being too professional can be boring and I can guarantee you are not going to enjoy yourself. Relationship capital requires being open and transparent in communications. If your relationships are based on what people think you are rather than what is real, you will find expectations will be disjointed and more than likely be dysfunctional. Monitoring your commitments can be a way of bringing reality to focus each and every day so it will be well worth the time invested.
Learn from Your Failures
Admitting mistakes and correcting missteps will go a long way when it comes to building relationship capital. Most people just want to know that you are sorry and that you have a plan for getting back on track. Be prepared to respond immediately with an apology and a proposal for fixing the problem. Don’t make excuses or point fingers. When a mistake is more than a minor setback, do something to make it right or otherwise provide value to the wronged party because if you don’t I can guarantee they will be looking for another product or provider. When you track your commitments, the good and the bad, you can see opportunities for improvements and develop a library of successes that you can use personally or professionally.
Make it Personal Whenever Possible
I definitely believe there are times where it is good to send an actual physical letter or card of appreciation as opposed to an e-mail. “Say ‘Thank you,” a lot. I send notes to new clients thanking them for their business. I send e-mails of appreciation often, for no reason at all. Never forget who got you where you are. And never, ever think you can say thank you enough to clients, customers, colleagues and even vendors too.
Make plans to catch up at or join someone at a networking event or sporting event. For some people, networking events are challenges and having, at least, one friendly face there can give them the confidence to network better. Plus, you will strengthen the relationship and gain relationship capital.
Building relationship capital should be an integral part of your culture. It should be spontaneous as well as genuine in the response and desire to serve. The leader provides the tools and usually demonstrates the behavior that should be emulated within the organization so it is critical for them to understand the motivation and vision well.
I have referred to the idea of tracking individual’s commitments as a way of building relationship capital a number of times in this article. In April 2016, a new tool will be introduced by Standard of Trust entitled PE.ER (Performance Excellence, Employee Engagement) which will allow for this to take place. With it, you will learn more about the Commitment Reliability Index as a great measure of an individual’s ability to earn relationship capital.
The primary focus of this tool is to allow individuals within the company to record commitments internally or externally and track the quality how well the commitments were met, completed or modified.
Watch for more information in the future.
In the meantime, I would love to talk with you about how you can begin to make your company culture a relationship capital creation machine. Check out my website at Transformative Leadership Group or call me at 630-454-4821.