Hamish Thomson, author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right, is a former regional president and global brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, Chicago), a senior sales and marketing lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands) and an account exec in the London advertising scene. In this guest post, Thomson says you should never underestimate the power of actual relationships…
Over a 30-year career, I have had the privilege to lead large businesses across multiple geographies, industries, and segments. Various global marketing gigs have given me exposure to some of the world’s most innovative and competitively driven thinkers. As a result, I have ruthlessly focused on revenue, cash and earnings targets and have been relatively successful in doing so.
Insight, observation and mistakes, however, have altered my perception of what constitutes transformational breakthrough. Seldom is it strategic intellect. Rarely is it technical mastery or functional brilliance. It is definitely not one-off transactional victory. Sustained success is the result of an unrivalled depth and quality of relationships. Partnerships that are mutually beneficial and enduring and those that lead to continuous P&L improvement. What follows are 7 counterintuitive solutions to ensure relationship success. Disagreement is ok, but curiosity should be mandatory.
- Relationships ahead of law and logic. We see daily examples of exceptional ideas and innovations falling way short of their potential. They fail not because of a lack of pragmatism or red-tape regulation or restriction. They fail because of failed relationships. The inability to connect and integrate a diverse range of stakeholders behind a common purpose and an aligned agenda. Believe in the importance of relationships, observe it to be true and value its necessity ahead of everything else. If you do not, no need to read on.
- Unwavering focus. It does not matter if you are a new graduate or an established global CEO. You should dedicate at least 50 per cent of your development time to enhancing your relationship skills. This may sound selfish. It is not. Continue to learn the functional stuff, but unless you master the art of connection, untapped results potential will remain the norm. Exceptional leaders and organisations despise untapped potential.
- Day one position of trust. This is a different trust model. New relationships should start from a position of total trust. It should be given immediately. Over time, trust can be lost, yet to start with, it should not have to be earned. Experience and intuition will guide you and on occasions, you will get caught out. The alternative is to wait until the other party has provided you enough evidence to be trusted. Life and business cycles are way too short for this approach and breakthrough opportunities will bypass you daily.
- Be vulnerable and do so early. Never enter into a relationship based on inauthentic behaviour. It is disingenuous to be someone you are not and invariably, it will lead to partnership breakdowns. Be vulnerable within your early interactions. Expose your failings, highlight your capability gaps and in all circumstances, admit openly when you are wrong. Concession and transparency are hallmarks of great leaders and those with strong values will respect you for it.
- Personal first. Business second. I disagree with the notion that business should be 100% separate from personal life. I have dedicated an entire chapter within my leadership book to this very subject. Wherever possible, be genuinely interested in getting to know the person on the other side of the table. Seek to understand what makes them tick before being understood from a business perspective. Small things like this make a massive difference and are at the cornerstone of people going over and above to support you in times of both need and opportunity.
- Don’t confuse motion with impact. It is critical that you measure the quality and success of business relationships with the same rigour and discipline as you do with productivity metrics. Talk is one thing, tangible traction and results are another. Measure leading and lagging indicators within monthly S&OP meetings; depth, quality and length of relationships, trust and reputational levels, mutuality of outcomes, pace and agility of change and the overall productivity impact of partnership results. There is a reason why econometric statisticians and behavioural scientists are now commonplace within cultural workplace meetings. Relationship quality and ROI metrics are no different.
- Recognise and reward. Let’s face it, it is tough to be an integrator and connector of others. For those within leadership positions, ensure you recognise and reward those who are exceptional at it. Unlock their potential by giving them stretch assignments – leads of cross functional projects even if they have limited subject matter expertise. Additionally, start recruiting and promoting those with a genuine curiosity and willingness to connect, engage and work with others. Finally, under no circumstances, accept repeated negative relationship behaviours from your senior leaders. It sends exactly the wrong message of interconnectivity to all levels of an organisation.
One more thing, make sure you allow time and space for your team to develop shared purpose and true personal connectivity. Some like team building courses. Others like me, well, we prefer an informal yarn over a glass or three.
Like many, my expectations for leaders and relationship mastery are longer than those listed above. They are demanding, challenging and I believe, stretching. Importantly, they are considerably shorter than those that I set for myself. I hope this never changes.
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