Relationships Matter

No man is an island” is the first line of a poem published in 1624 by John Donne. The poem concludes with the line, ”And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I am NOT steeped in old English poetry, but I remember this poem from my college years as I am a HUGE fan of Ernest Hemingway, the author of an amazing book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, published in 1940. I suspect Donne’s poem was Hemingway’s inspiration for the title. I digress.

This post—taking inspiration from “no man is an island”—is about building and maintaining business relationships. Those relationships can be described in many ways, including relationships both inside and external to a business. All of us are dependent upon numerous types of relationships.

With a focus on business, some are peer relationships with fellow employees. Others are supervisor to direct report relationships. Others are senior management to employees … that they are not directly supervising. Others are relationships that management and other employees have with external entities, such as vendors, prospects, and clients.

Still others are collegial relationships, wherein peers in the market are meeting and networking to accomplish a variety of goals. All are important to each on a personal and/or professional level, and in some instances, to the company’s pursuit of its mission and vision, its continued growth and prosperity. Again, “no man is an island.”

Let’s focus on a key relationship—the interaction of a supervisor with a direct report.

Both have expectations of the other, predominately based upon their specific role and responsibilities, but personalities and other intangibles are also relevant. The supervisor predominately has performance expectations. So, does the direct report, but from the perspective of support. In every instance, the quality of interaction or level of dysfunction associated with the relationship matters.

In this boss-to-employee relationship, if the relationship is objectively described as dysfunctional—either from the supervisor’s perception that the employee is underperforming in a significant manner, or if the employee believes their boss is predominately failing to support them in their role and responsibilities—the consequences to the company are quite negative. In the latter instance, one of the major reasons (according to Gallup, OVER 50%) for employee flight to other employment is that they believe their supervisor is a “bad manager.” Turnover costs are typically a heavy burden, which includes many hidden costs.

If the incidents of dysfunctional boss-to-direct report relationships are writ large and frequent inside the company, the consequence to the company’s culture and a wide range of tangible financial measures … can be enormous. The insidious aspect of these dysfunctional relationships is that—while they are occurring and often visible to others—they remain under the radar. Many leaders and managers are ill-equipped to recognize what is happening, and unprepared to resolve the dysfunctions.

Further, imagine the consequences of dysfunctional relationships that can exist with employees, and either prospects or existing customers. Customers also have needs and expectations. If they aren’t being met—either as to the quality of the product and/or the quality of service … as they define that quality—they look elsewhere. There isn’t a business owner that wants that to happen.

Therefore, in all business relationships, what can a business do to eliminate dysfunctional behaviors and the negative consequences that occur? What can a business do to build and maintain relationships, both internal and external?

AWARENESS is the first step. Observe and ask questions. Discover if there are pockets of dysfunctional relationships, or if it is more pervasive. Often, the use of external resources can more effectively find the answers you seek and define causality.

The next step is to determine how to best resolve the identified problems, to determine a ROADMAP for implementation of changes in process, behavior, and/or capabilities. The focus might be cultural and companywide, or it might be rooted in specific departments that are either charged with selling or serving functions. Training initiates those changes.

A final step is often missed, and that is ongoing FEEDBACK and MEASUREMENT to MAINTAIN continuous progress toward established business goals and objectives.

We can help with these steps. Frequently, the needed changes can happen quite rapidly.