Building Relationships that Build Business

Relationships are the foundation of business. Whether it is relationships inside your company or outside of your company, relationships allow your business to either thrive or fail. Because of this, focusing on relationships is one of the most effective ways to improve your company and simultaneously build personal success.

Identify key relationships
Think about the relationships that you need in order to succeed. These relationships may include others in your company, your industry, or your circle of influence. Now take a moment to write down the top 10 people you need to succeed and rate the strength of those relationships. How you are doing? Are these relationships weak or are they strong? Most people will find a mixed bag: some relationships that are incredibly strong, and others at the breaking point. In order to succeed you need these relationships, so what can you do to ensure that these relationships are strong?

Do something about it
The best way to build a relationship is simply to help other people; not to return a favor, but simply because you want to build the relationship. Business relationships are often weakened by years of taking with very little giving in return. To strengthen a relationship all you need to do is help the other person without seeking personal gain. Some examples of this include: providing a contract lead to a client, turning your timesheets in on-time (for an overextended accountant), and providing timely information to others in the industry. The goal is to proactively work to make their life easier.

Why it Works
If someone helps you once you would appreciate it; if they helped you 10 times, you would develop a healthy desire to return the favor; if they helped you 30 times you would do every you could to help them in return. This is the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship, a relationship where two people are consistently looking for ways to help one another.

Building a relationship that builds business starts when you selflessly help others.  Who on your list do you need to help today?

Return the Favor

Has someone ever helped you to the point that you sat at your desk and tried to think up ways to return the favor?

One such time happened for me in 2006 when a friend worked to get me on a team for a major project that resulted in an $800,000 contract from my company.  What took her 15 minutes (time spent selling someone else on using my firms services) would have cost me 40 hours of phone calls, multiple lunches, and numerous meetings, and even still I wouldn’t have been guaranteed a spot on the team.  Needless to say, I was not only thankful to my friend for her work, but I literally sat at my desk working up ways to return the favor.

 The key to this story wasn’t how she helped to get me on the team; it is how your actions can motivate other people to help you.  Those 15 minutes of work have resulted in dozens of referrals and project leads as I have worked to return the favor.  As my friend focused on helping me, she was developing a mutually beneficial relationship that resulted in me working hard to help her.

If you are looking to increase your effectiveness, start by helping other people in your network.  What can you do today that will leave someone else pondering what they can do to return the favor?

Recession Marketing

How we respond to a recession dictates our success (or failure) not only during, but more importantly after, the market downturn. Companies that can hold their ground through a downturn often become market leaders afterward.

In hard times businesses often look to eliminate expenses, but what about marketing expenses? If a marketing department is properly functioning there should be a direct correlation between our marketing budget and our accounts receivable. Based on this we would all agree that cutting the marketing budget would be a poor idea in a recession. What recessions often remind us, however, is that the expenses of many marketing departments do not have a direct correlation to our accounts receivable. Often marketing departments focus on producing glossy brochures and professional websites that do not necessarily function to support the bottom line.

Refining and Reshaping Marketing
This said, down turns in the economy are not the time to cut our marketing budgets; rather it is the time to refine and reshape our marketing expenditures to truly focus on bringing work in the door. This refining and reshaping should yield an increase in the return on our marketing investment dollars, increasing the correlation between those expenditures and our accounts receivable.  Here are some common changes that you can evaluate to achieve this goal:

  1. Increase your advertising dollars instead of giving your website a facelift.
  2. Incentivize your sales staff instead of getting more mugs with your logo on them.
  3. Cross-train a key person on your marketing staff to provide business development support instead of redesigning your company logo.
  4. Target some new relationships before RFPs and proposals come out instead of using the shotgun approach to pursue proposals (pursing RFPs and proposals that you have no business pursuing).

The Common Recession Mistake
Some functions/expenses of marketing can, and should, be put aside during a recession so that those funds can be spent on marketing functions that are more effective at bringing work in the door. A common mistake during a market downturn is to eliminate the ‘extra’ marketing expenses, but failing to redirect the money towards marketing that will enable you to compete in the highly competitive recession market.

What to do
A recession is the perfect time to sit down with the head of your marketing department to reshape your marketing approach.  Focusing on the marketing functions and expenses can help support your bottom line.

A Last Note
So, why are firms that market heavily during a recession positioned to succeed post-recession? Because people are our most valuable assets, and providing them a place of security during a recession ensures that your best employees will be around as the market picks up momentum. Also, a recession provides a great opportunity to hire the best and brightest from your competition if you are able to keep your bottom line intact. After the recession you then have a foundation for growth and the ability to become a market leader.

Changing Corporate Culture: Acknowledge and Celebrate Success

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

By the time you have arrived at step three in the cultural change process employees should have a solid understanding of the culture that you are moving towards (Step 1: Educate and Encourage) and you should have defined expectations of how they fit into the new culture (Step 2: Define Expectations). The purpose of step three is the long-term acceptance of the change by the staff, not management.

Why acknowledge & celebrate
After seeing many new business ideas come and go over the years, employees innately learn to “wait and see” if change is going to last before they embrace it. Think about the many companies that have unsuccessfully tried to embrace a matrix organizational structure only to revert back to a hierarchical structure. With time, employees learn that many business ideas are initiated and then fade away in short cycles, often over the course of just a few months or years. Because of this, employees often wait to adopt new practices wholeheartedly until they see that the initiative, and their personal investment in that initiative, will succeed. It is for this reason that employee’s must be reinforced through acknowledgement in order for employees to embrace cultural change.

What it looks like
In the example of building a culture that embraces business development, encouragement can be accomplished by the CEO and others in upper management taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” for bringing work in the door.  This brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and appreciated by the highest levels of management.  In addition to acknowledging employee efforts you can celebrate success through popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks. The important thing is to ensure that individual efforts are noted and appreciated. Once these efforts are clearly established through this process it is time to move on to reward the success (Step 4).

Why companies never initiate this step
The primary reasons companies do not succeed in this stage is the large amount of effort that it takes to acknowledge and celebrate success. It is very easy to hire a consultant to provide education, and managers’ typically don’t mind defining new expectations for their staff, but managers must make a purposeful effort to acknowledge individual contributions. Unfortunately, this often goes undone, resulting in the failure of employees embracing cultural change.


It’s Not ‘Just Business’

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions.  The reality is that, in our relatively small industry where relationships are everything, it is impossible to negate the importance of relationships when faced with difficult business decisions.  We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions.  To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

Making Sound Business Decisions
This past year our company celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house to which we invited as many of our previous employees as we could track down.  We were surprised by what we found: most of our previous employees were still working locally; many were leaders of change affecting our business everyday; and dozens were now our clients. 

Looking at how these former employees have continued to impact our company has reinforced the importance of these long-term relationships.  Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which is based largely on a culture of trusted relationships.  Business decisions made with the “It’s Just Business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people.  By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.

An Industry Built on Relationships
In his blog, Mark Buckshon, President of Construction News and Report Publishing, states that, “You will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving.” His statement is especially true in our industry, which is a leader in recognizing the importance of relationships as the key to our successes and failures.  It is important to note this as we make business decisions, knowing that others in our company and industry will evaluate our motivations and, based on their observations, will develop trust in our leadership accordingly.

It’s Just People
Many companies have succeeded at making people the center of their decisions.  Some examples include: the company that tries to find new jobs for employees facing layoffs; the manager that mentors an underachiever instead of firing the employee; and the owner who respects seniority when promoting a young project manager over an experienced individual by changing a title or adapting team structure.  Undoubtedly, this people-centered approach to business decisions can be more difficult in the short-term, but most successes are built on long-term, not on short-term gains.

It’s Just Smart Business
Perhaps it is time to give up our “It’s Just Business” slogan and instead focus on the value of every relationship – current and past employees as well as clients.  Next time you are making an important decision think about the potential long-term benefits of maintaining strong relationships. 

This article, written by Tim Klabunde, was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Marketer, the leading marketing publication of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.

Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture

Corporate culture doesn’t change overnight, just as it was not built overnight. It is not always an easy process, but by looking at the thousands of firms that have gone before us we can identify a systematic process that yields success through a cultural change. That systematic process can be broken down into four easy-to-understand steps that will allow you to take control of your cultural change:

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Education and encouragement are the foundational step of any cultural change.  Without the knowledge of how to succeed in a new culture it will be impossible for employees to move towards that new culture.  As an example I am going to focus on changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces Rainmaking.  Under this example, the first thing people need to know is how to “make rain” or how to bring work in the door.  This will require training in areas such as networking and business development. During and after training it is important to encourage employees to try out their newly acquired skills.  Through this process you will begin an ongoing process of training and raising up a company that embraces the new culture.
Step 2 – Define Expectations

The second step in changing a corporate culture is defining expectations. This should not be done in the context of threatening or coercion, but rather by clearly identifying what is expected of employees in the company.  Note the emphasis on individuals in each step; changing corporate culture is dependent on changing one person at a time. This also means that what is expected of individuals may vary, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific business development goals while a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and celebrating success is the most important step in changing corporate culture.  Firms often begin the process of change by bringing in outside training and defining new expectations, but the culture change never takes root.  The reason is that culture change is dependent on the acknowledgement of success at the highest level. Taking our example of building a culture that embraces rainmaking, this could be accomplished by the CEO taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” to an employee for bringing work in the door.  That brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important, not just to their manager, but that all the way up the chain their efforts are being appreciated.  In addition to acknowledging success you can celebrate success through popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks.

Step 4 – Reward Success

The final step in changing a corporate culture is rewarding success.  Title changes, bonuses, parking spaces, raises, and office locations linked to culture change successes ensure the long-term success of your cultural change.  This final stage should only be implanted after the other three steps as it can backfire without the proper foundation. The goal is to build the cultural shift based on people that are working to build a better company for themselves and others.

A Final Note

It is important to measure your success in changing your corporate culture one person at a time. Your culture didn’t instantly become what it is today, and it will not instantly become what you want it to be.  Rather, focus your attention on the success of individuals, by doing this you will see a wave of optimism unfold as these individuals begin to build your new corporate culture.

For more information on each of the Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture see the links below:
Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Step 2 – Define Expectations

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Step 4 – Reward Success

Ten Basic Business Principals

Mark Buckshon has again written an excellent post on business.  In it he identifies ten basic business principals that remind us “that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Here are my favorites:

3. Accidents happen. All the time. Plans are meant for constant change.

6. You have to have fun to succeed. Sure parts of your work may — and probably are — painful, but if you really don’t enjoy what you are doing, find out why, really quickly, and change things. Don’t do stuff just for the money.

7. It is really dumb to put anyone ‘down’ while you are acting high and mighty. It drives people nuts and makes enemies. I know I’ve done it, to my permanent regret.

8. It rarely helps to hold grudges. Sure, we should not be wimps if we are attacked or mistreated. But it is important to know when to move on.

And, my personal favorite:

10. People stay the same. Basic principals apply. Respect and recognize others and appreciate that great relationships are the essence of great business. New and old, through good and hard times, the entrepreneur who understands appreciates the basic rules of respect and integrity will succeed as fly-by-night operators come and go.

To read the other five principals visit Ten Basic Business Principals at the Construction Marketing Ideas blog.  Great insight Mark!