I was once asked by a business journal in Phoenix to comment on what I felt was a core competency of a company I had been working with for some time and that the journal was celebrating with an award. I wrote that I felt there were several competencies I would consider, but the one that stood above the others was the owner’s ability to build relationships both within the company and within the communities his company served.
As I’ve worked with clients over the years, I’ve witnessed how this relationship-building skill plays a central role in a company’s continued success. And it applies to relationships with communities of thousands as well as those of just a few.
One of the ways I use to determine the strength of this skill in myself is what I call the “grocery store test.” How will I feel if I run into someone I’ve been involved with through my business while I’m in the grocery store?
Let’s run through some of the people we interact with and see how we might do.
Suppliers. There’s a difference between negotiating the best deal with suppliers who provide you the goods and services your company needs and “working” them for a price point they can’t sustain. Nobody wins in that situation. The supplier struggles or goes out of business, and you lose a valuable resource.
At what point in the future will this vendor exact repayment? Vendors within any industry know each other and are usually very willing to share information and opinions with each other about their customers (you). What would they say about you?
Workers. What did you learn about yourself and your company in the time an employee worked for you? Did you become a better business leader? Did your company become a better employer during their employment?
If you see past employees in the produce department of your grocery store, will you quickly change direction and head to the dairy aisle? Or will you be happy to see them and ask how they’re doing?
Customers. Our customers usually have strong opinions about our company and about us. After all, they are a reflection of what we stand for as individuals. This is especially true when we’ve worked with them for years or if we’ve been involved in a larger project with them.
Our customers are usually employed by someone. What if you find yourself being a customer of theirs at the grocery store? Will they avoid interacting with you or will they help you find the freshest produce or the best cuts of meat for your upcoming event?
Over our working career the companies we do business with will come and go, but the relationships we build with people will last. The people we do business with may move from company to company and even from industry to industry. Build solid relationships with others based on trust, mutual respect, and shared values so they become your promoters when they move, as you become theirs.
In spite of how big the world might seem or how transactional business might feel, we really are connected more than we think, and the relationships we build can cast very long shadows.