By David Nour, author – Relationship Economics

With unemployment hovering close to ten percent in many countries, a number of global organizations are having a difficult time finding and retaining the necessary talent not only to extract a return in big growth investments but also to undertake everyday operations with necessary quality, efficiency and effectiveness. Many organizations are also struggling to get the most out of their existing talent. While they have staff with specific functional skills, they often lack multi-faceted stars that can solve thorny business problems that span multiple domain expertise and engage cross-business unit leaders on topics such as lasting change management or adaptive innovation.

One challenge could be that inevitably every organization’s efforts to develop, train, and recruit good people focuses on product, service, or industry topics. Many organizations invest heavily into gaining functional or industry insights yet seldom invest in the all-encompassing topic of strategic relationships within the organization – what I have referred to in the past decade as an organization’s intracompany relationships – its biggest off-balance sheet asset.

Leaders within organizations of varying sizes, shapes, and structure certainly understand the importance of business relationships. For many, that’s how they’ve earned their current role or realm of responsibilities; that’s how their top sales producers continue to expand their organization’s market share; that’s how bright engineers are advancing R&D by doing things differently (real innovation) versus simply doing them better (incrementalism). Yet for some reasons, the significance of their business relationships, particularly within the organization, eludes their attention and investment of valuable resources.

Intracompany relationships are a critical component of the organization’s culture; in essence, the senior leadership’s vision, delivered. Those relationships cannot be assumed to exist nor to be getting nurtured, measured, developed, enhanced, amplified, future success-proofed or celebrated by chance. We assume an individual has both the skills and the knowledge to develop productive business relationships, within and external to the organization, when we interview and hire them. We assume they can “pick up” the skills and knowledge from others around them, often informally. We assume when their performance meets or exceeds expectations that they’re in fact utilizing learned behaviors. And when the performance is not up to par, it must be something other than their inability, willingness, or working knowledge of productive strategic relationships.

So what’s the answer? Here are some ideas:

A) With the team you have:

• Launch a formal and informal “relationship”-mentoring program. Create more informal learning opportunities where relationship mentors can help mentees understand why and how some relationships work, within and external to the organization at the edge of where it happens;

• Create a reverse mentoring program for the more socially enabled talent to help the more seasoned staff keep up with the evolution of social networks, social media, and social collaboration;

• Rotate high performers so they can develop a wide and highly diversified portfolio of strategic relationships, up, down and across the organization;

• Ensure senior leadership / executive committee / board interactions. Groom the sharpest and the up-and-comers to engage and interact with previously unreachable relationship opportunities;

• Fuel their passion. We tend to gravitate toward tasks, functions, and relationships we enjoy, develop a competency in, and consistently look for getting involved with. Figure out what that is for your high performers and fuel it;

• Facilitate outside exposures. Send them to marquees events, encourage them to develop internal and external networks, and suggest consistent interactions with thought and practice leadership.

B) With new recruiting opportunities:

• Infuse relationship-centric questions in the interview process. Integrate multiple relationship-development skills and talent to engage them early in the process;

• Draft exceptional athletes. It’s difficult to teach intelligence or authentic relationship-development behaviors. Hire quick learners who can adapt in a wide facet of relationship situations. Look for relationship problem solving skills and those who can turn bad or inefficient relationships around to productive and highly valuable ones. Seek observable behavior in how they listen to, engage, and influence others often without authority;

• Leverage your intracompany relationships. Relationship A-players attract other relationship-centric A-players. Go to your sharpest relationship profiles and leverage their portfolio of relationships to identify additional candidates. C) Integrate strategic relationship development best practices into the culture:

• Review how they’re measured and compensated. Amazing how often we ask for “A” and compensate “B;”

• Integrate relationship-development expectations, scorecards, peer-reviews, and development pathways for personal and professional growth;

• Create relationship-development roundtable discussions for best practices and best practitioners to capture and help institutionalize what are often dramatic improvement opportunities hidden within teams and buried functions.

Make no mistake about it. This isn’t an “HR” thing. Strategic relationships cannot be abdicated to a worker bee staff, or some twenty-something to “figure it out!” Strategic relationships, within as well as external to the organization, are the cornerstone of servant leadership and the unequivocal pillar of one’s fiduciary responsibility to the organization. Without particular and prioritized attention, focus, and discipline in developing a world-class portfolio of strategic intracompany relationships, you may win the short-term battles but the organization will ultimately lose the long-term competitive war.

Are you leading the next Kodak and simply don’t know it?

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