When it comes to discussing success in business, the current literature focuses mainly on strategy, new business models and operational excellence. Much less is said about how an executive or mid-level manager may use his relationships to improve the performance of himself and of the company. Why is this important and how to make the best of your relationships? This article will provide three points to answer the Why and five tips to improve the How.
First of all, work relationships cannot be strictly defined within official documents. Within a company for example, not all required tasks fit nicely into the listed responsibilities of employees. This is especially true for non-service companies where departments are quite separate and tend to operate in silos. In such an environment, how do you get somebody to help you do something that is not his job? Updating the job description is a possibility, but this will lead to endless unproductive chores. Hence, having healthy relationships between employees is critical for the company to function well, as it allows for a buffer zone between official and unofficial responsibilities.
The same is true for relationships between companies. We know that contracts cannot cover all obligations, potential infringements and remedies for the parties involved. Even if contracts do provision for many scenarios, not all interaction warrants a contract. Imagine you want to check for input prices of a competitor that is in a distinct market. The fact that you and your counterpart attends the same seminar organized by the industry association, that you went to the same dinner party and discovered you had a common interest might help you two open up and share information that otherwise is not specified under any contracts or agreements.
You might be wondering, having good relationships in business certainly help us feel better, but how does it help improve the bottom line? For one, good relationships bring information, which for certain industries and businesses of certain size, materially impact the operational performance of the firm. Second of all, good relationships reduce costs to perform tasks and allow managers to dedicate time to other priorities. Last but not least, good relationships reduce turnovers and help attract talents to the company.
Now that we have covered the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with your work contacts, below are five tips that will help you build and improve these relationships.
Tip #1: Remember birthdays
This is the simplest one to perform. Put the birthdays of your key contacts onto your electronic calendar. For the most important ones, create a reminder one or two days in advance. Other important dates may be Christmas, Women’s day, Father’s Day (if you are close enough to your contact to congratulate him or her). Use birthdays or key dates to start a communication or simply show your contact that you have thought about him or her.
Tip #2: Thank, apologize or report
This is a tenet of Japanese business communication. If you find it difficult to re-initiate contact with somebody you have met before, try thanking him for something he has done for you, apologizing (for not keeping in touch, for example), or getting back with something he’s asked of you. This will help get the conversation or e-mail chain started and create a good feeling with you and the other interlocutor.
Tip #3: Be thoughtful
There is life beyond work. There are certainly private circumstances behind professional duties. Instead of hammering at your contact for not adhering to his or her deadlines, try figuring out what is causing the delay. Create small talks to ease the tension. Ask about how his or her family is doing and remember it for future reference. This will also help you get things done the next time, when there are no formal assignment or deadlines.
Tip #4: Be sincere
One main reason often cited for why there exists tension between employees or between boss and subordinate is that the language used at work is “pretentious” or “insincere”. A common scene at a company meeting is a manager babbling about wonderful visions and values while pushing unreasonable targets down to each department. It is good to have ambitions but the question is can you convince everybody to pursue the goals by merely using big words? In many cases, such behavior creates further distance between the speaker and the audience.
Tip #5: Be professional
While you should be sincere and thoughtful in dealing with your business contacts, you should note that professionalism is equally important. After all, office is different from home, and many people prefer to keep them separate. Excessive questions about private affairs or inappropriate jokes should be avoided. Your contacts should feel the warmth and care from the conversation but still secure about their privacy so that they are comfortable building up the relationship with you.
One final thought on business contacts, they are better thought of as a scarce resource. Imagine you have managed to secure a meeting with a government minister who is extremely busy. It is his birthday and you have ten minutes to make an impression. You are well-dressed, have prepared a beautiful bouquet of flower, and knows by heart what needs to be said. Regardless of what you will actually say in the meeting, you know that if you mess up you will not have another chance. This is an extreme case but the same could be thought of all business contacts, albeit to a lesser degree. We are all busy hard-working professionals, so make sure each interaction achieves more than what you have paid (in money, time or effort) to arrange it.
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