Building Relationships Vs. Getting Results

If you had to choose between good business results and good business relationships, which would you pick? This might seem like a trick question – after all, results are what you put into the bank at the end of the day, but you know that a hard-working team of motivated people makes that possible.

But it isn’t a trick: there's a conflict between people and profits playing out everyday that executives need to be aware of.

Take the company president who is experiencing phenomenal growth for the first time in a long while. He’s overwhelmed and can’t hire fast enough, but instead of delegating more to the people he does have, his instincts are to work harder and control more. He’s made himself a bottleneck, and his people resent his change in behavior – some are even leaving. The result is still growth, but the cost is that he’s losing good people when he needs more of them, not less.

Take the construction supervisor who reminisced, “We had a great team of guys. After working our butts off all day, we could hang out at the jobsite and drink beers. That’s a big part of what made us great together, but that’s impossible now. Now, you can’t get anybody to work hard.” The result is a healthy balance sheet with corporate liability, but the cost is the loss of a team that worked hard together. Even worse, you begin to lose your supply of skilled labor when the work is no longer fun.

Results are tangible and easy to measure. People are messy, seem to take more time than they should, and can be difficult to navigate. It’s no wonder that, when push comes to shove, results tend to win over relationships. Besides, people come and go – they can always be replaced, right?

That mentality is like trying to race a high-performance car while simultaneously trying to rebuild the engine with parts that don’t necessarily fit together. Good luck.

So, what does it actually cost when relationships take a back seat, even inadvertently?

  • You lose good people. Recent studies show that a good supervisor can improve performance by 10 percent. That’s 10 percent per manager to your bottom line! Considering that your competitors are starting to hire more aggressively now, you can be certain that they have your top performers in their sights.
  • You get less quality input. Sure, you have your circle of go-to folks – every senior executive does. These are trusted high performers that you have great relationships with, and they’re not going anywhere. The problem with this cadre is that it’s isolating, and even though you may be isolating with the best people, it’s damaging to your relationships with people outside your circle, and this in turn limits the flow of valuable information you receive. This includes critical feedback that your insiders may not be giving you for fear that they might then find themselves on the outside.
  • Longevity is inhibited. The ready-fire-aim mentality can quickly turn a company around and deliver some nice bottom-line results. But more often than not, I’ve seen the people who use that method get fired later on for using the same tactics when moving up the ladder. Too many bridges are burned, and colleagues become distrustful, fearing that they’re going to be targeted next. This isn’t just the case for employees, it’s also true for businesses. Partners, substitutes and past employees remember how they’ve been treated, and they all talk. A hit-and-run company can quickly find itself with fewer opportunities and less profit.

If you’re looking to develop relationships for lasting results, here are three things you should work on:

  1. Focus on yourself.

    This may sound contradictory, but your relationships start with you. You know that you work better with other people when you are grounded, attentive and real. In my work with leaders and their organizations, I’ve seen firsthand many leaders who think they’re “faking it ’til they make it” but are in fact totally transparent to the people working for them. Unless you’re about to receive an Academy Award, you’re just not a good enough actor to fool everyone all of the time. Take the time to think, be honest with yourself, and develop the support systems you need so that you can cultivate the best in yourself. And let that shine through.

  2. Know these three things about other people:
    • They assume that you’re acting intentionally in everything you do.

      If you forget to invite someone to a meeting, they might think you’re excluding them and worry that their career is in jeopardy. If you walk through the office talking too loudly, others might think your attitude is that your work is more important than theirs. Even though these assumptions are likely not correct, it’s important to be aware of others’ perspectives, and how your actions – whether intentional or not –might impact them.

    • They will contribute to something worth winning.

      This might be their job, their union, their family or even a video game – there’s plenty of competition for their allegiance. If you can make the vision for your company compelling and personally meaningful to them, you will ignite enthusiasm, contribution and results.

    • It’s more than OK to be candid and vulnerable.

      People can’t stand whining, but they relate to humanity. When you’re strong enough to apologize for your mistakes, acknowledge your uncertainty, and openly strive with all your heart, you allow the people around you to do the same. This is not always an easy thing to do, but you should know that the bonds that stand the test of time are forged in vulnerability.

  3. Put the power in the relationship, not the person.

    Think of your relationships like pets. If you don’t feed your cat, it will leave; if you beat your dog, it will turn mean; if you don’t clean the fishbowl, the whole house will start to stink, and eventually the fish will die.

    But you also have some leeway: a cat can forage if you miss a couple of meals; a dog keeps coming back, no matter what, hoping for your attention; and a fish can occasionally survive a dirty tank for an extra couple of days – although some fish are heartier than others.

    The strength of a relationship largely depends on where you put the focus. In many of our relationships, we tend to put the focus on the other person. Unfortunately, this means that, when conflict arises – which it always does, because we’re human – a tug-of-war of competing interests can take place.

    When you put the focus on the relationship itself, it’s easier to address conflict. A good example is the way I approach my relationships with my clients. As their coach, it’s my job to push them to grow in ways that are fruitful, and often uncomfortable. At the outset, we design our working alliance by agreeing on our mutual responsibilities, most productive work styles, etc. – much as you would when bringing on a new associate. This way, if challenges arise, we’re able to objectify our working relationship as the alliance and swiftly address our concerns.

At the end of the day, it’s not really a choice between business relationships and business results. You have to have both for the long run. But the pressure for results is immediate and unceasing. Relationships have to be a consistent and conscious priority in order to compete for limited time and attention. So, the question is this: How will you force yourself to focus on nurturing your business relationships? Don’t let the reminder come in the form of key members of your team walking out the door.

As the president of Enriching Leadership International, Michelle Randall has coached construction executives to help radically grow their business and enjoy life more. She is the author of several books, including her latest, “Life Worth Living: A Practical Guide to Extreme Executive Effectiveness.” For more information, visit or follow her on Twitter, @enrichingleader.

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