There was a time not long ago, when most business owners considered it a hostile world. They were at odds with their competitors, with labor and with their community. They felt at the mercy of the economy, the environment and the government. In short, it was “us” against a pretty big “them.”
But there has been a shift in the landscape. Today collaboration is becoming the norm. To survive and thrive as business owners, we must work in harmony with our community, with our labor force and for the benefit of the environment. They, in turn, have to work with us. We must each be cognizant of and communicate about our needs and our limitations. We must seek solutions together that benefit all parties.
It can be a scary thing to start trusting entities that you have always viewed with suspicion. Perhaps you have had bad experiences with some constituencies that seemed to be out to drive you under. But it is worth noting that these other parties are under the same pressure as you to adapt to a new environment that is more collaborative and more interconnected.
Survival is no longer you or me. It is now you and me – or it will be neither of us.
The business interactions we had in the past were often strained ones. If we dared to call them relationships, it is safe to say that we were in need of “couple’s therapy.” Our relationships with our workers, with our suppliers and with our neighbors may have hardly been relationships at all by any meaningful definition of the word. It would be more accurate to call them entanglements. When things get tangled, there is a lot of twisting and pulling. It is frustrating and time consuming. In short, it is not good business.
At this juncture, we can no longer settle for entanglements. We need true relationships. When you are in a relationship, you care about the other party. You also count on them.
So how do you upgrade your previous business entanglements to real relationships?
Recognize that Giving and Receiving are Two Sides of the Same Coin
One does not exist without the other. There is no coin with heads but no tails. If you think, “I’ll worry about my heads, they can worry about their own tails,” I promise you will find yourself getting old paradigm results in a new paradigm world. The real world will pass you by. Let me translate that into business terms: It will cost you money.
Giving and receiving are not the same as giving and taking. Taking is the old way of doing business and it is not even present in the new model. Receiving replaces taking, upgrades it, really. Receiving requires a willing giver. Taking never did. You cannot sustain a business if you are regularly dealing with the unwilling, whether they are your employees, your investors, your customers or anyone else.
If you come at these relationships with the expressed or even unexpressed intent of remaining “in charge,” you will weaken the relationship. That is not to say that present hierarchies need to change. You still get to be your employee’s boss or your supplier’s customer. It’s just that it’s not about domination, but rather cooperation. Fully take on your role. If you are a superior in that role, recognize you also must be a protector and benefactor in the truest sense.
These true relationships have some new overhead, but they also have valuable benefits that more than offset your investment in them. Someone has to go first, though. You are a leader. That means it ought to be you. People like leaders and they will follow. So lead.
There are the occasional few who won’t follow, no matter how well you lead. They don’t want a relationship, they expect to stick with the old, substandard arrangement of entanglement.
So how do you let go of entanglements that will never become relationships?
Recognize Them for What They Are
Just because you have always bought from Prickly Supply Corp. doesn’t mean it is worth it to stay with them. While familiarity is a factor in a relationship, it is only one. The best price often comes with other costs. So does the best selection or the fastest delivery or the longest terms. You have to weigh all factors. If they don’t care about you, the day will come when the price will be too high, and yet you will still be obliged to pay it. Get in front of that curve by finding the people who are your supporters in the companies that are your supporters.
It all begins and ends with people. One person you know you can count on in the shipping department can make all the difference. Maybe it’s someone in accounting or customer service. Yes, it can even be someone in sales. Sales people as a group have often had an unlovely reputation. But as the world shifts, so do sales people. In fact, they are at the forefront of this shift. Look for sales people you can count on. More and more come online every day. For those that can’t or won’t get with the program, it is time to say your goodbyes.
You can ask for new contacts: New contacts in sales, in service, in accounting, in shipping and more. Sometimes the answer is, there is no one else. If that’s the case, make your choices mindfully. Just remember, entanglements are burdensome.
Breaking an entanglement isn’t necessarily permanent. I know a beautiful company that has rehired a certain employee twice after twice letting him going for not being committed enough to their relationship. They continue to be on good terms. They remained on good terms even after firing him. It’s not about making anyone wrong or punishing anyone. It’s just about setting a high standard for the mutual care between you, and then living it.
Some of our entanglements exist because of other relationships. Hiring your nephew might not have been as great for business as it was for family. Really though, you aren’t doing Nephew or Auntie any favors if you allow for a dependent or codependent entanglement to exist. Nepotism gets a bad rap. There is nothing wrong with familiarity opening doors. But it’s a real relationship that keeps those doors open. Be flexible but strong.
Business is about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about working together, not just for the common good but for the good of each individual. As this standard rises, all of society rises. We entrepreneurs are at the head of this charge. Society will follow. So foster strong business relationships. The world needs it.
Tangled Photo via Shutterstock