In a world full of busyness – one that buries us with deadlines, corporate politics, competition, difficult career decisions, managing work-life balance, and navigating personal growth – it is easy to feel like we’re not getting anywhere. I’ve learned that no matter how much I shift my priorities around, life remains busy and, most of the time, feels unmanageable. Day to day, we aspire to be influential, successful, to mean something; there are so many other facets of life that tug at us on the inside. However, at the end of the day, there is really one important thing that remains to be at the core of success: building solid relationships.
People say that time is our most valuable resource. I would say that relationships are our most valuable resource, but they take time to develop.
Often, relationships get put on the back-burner, mostly due to “not enough time to build them.” Investing in people takes time, but it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding part of ensuring success, especially in a culture today that is rapidly shifting away from human interaction and moving mostly toward virtual interaction. The importance of building strong personal relationships applies to all areas of life, both personal and professional. There is only so much time in a day and, as the years pass, the days seem to get shorter and shorter, and life gets busier and busier. In this article, I focus on the importance of relationship-building in our professional lives, as it can be a big element in determining how successful we become.
What does “building a relationship” mean to you? Do you text someone once or twice, but don’t call them? Or do you call, but if you don’t hear back from them, not call again? When you meet with someone, do you do most of the talking or do you do any listening? Do you ignore incoming calls from friends or clients? When you talk to people, do you ask how they’re doing, and then take time to dig deeper into areas of their lives to learn more about them? When you get asked how you’re doing, do you just answer with the typical, “I’m good” or do you give them an honest answer and open yourself up for deeper conversation?
We can be so focused on what needs to get done or what we have going on in our own lives that we miss the opportunities in front of us to invest in someone else and build a relationship.
As the cliché says, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” This is particularly true in our professional lives. Whatever profession you are in, if you don’t take time to build relationships by investing in others’ lives, you won’t be successful. This is true in organizations that depend on team collaboration for their success. If organizations are not taking time to build solid relationships within their teams or investing in their employees, they won’t keep them or, if they do, they will not be sturdy.
Let’s break this down: what does this mean exactly? Many of us are afraid to become too vulnerable in the workplace. We think we should keep our personal lives separate from our professional lives.
However, let’s think about the impact our personal lives really have on our performance at work. Today, when millennials are dominating the workforce, most are coming to the workplace with emotional needs that they are expecting to be filled. That emotional need stems from relational needs that are not being met outside of the workplace.
A Gallup poll says that over 50% of current employees are already looking for their next job. Why? Those are disturbing statistics that create a lot of room for failure. Some of the reasons given are due to paradigm shifts that have occurred in the late ‘90s to early 2000s when technology, social media and cell phones became a prominent form of communication. In the last 50 years, we’ve seen a higher increase of divorce rates, extended families no longer intact, schools and churches more disconnected, and communities broken up. With so much emotional disconnection and lack of relationship building, many employees today enter the workforce with a deep need for social and human interaction. Organizations that lack strong relationship building skills fail to keep their best talent because they are unable to meet these needs.
To back my theories here, I interviewed coaches who do this for a living. They work in organizations to primarily teach their leaders how to care for their co-workers so that they can become more successful. They are teaching organizations how to truly invest in their employees and build solid relationships, teaching them the skills to develop real empathy for those around them. Many executives see the value in this as they recognize that it takes much more than passing conversations to win favorable reviews.
“No matter what, all people are relational leaders, even if you’re not a positional leader,” said one of the relational coaches I interviewed (for the sake of confidentiality, I will call them Jim and Jane). When I asked why building strong relationships is important in the workplace, they shared their answers, some teaching tools, and the results of these practices when they’re put into place:
Strong relationships are crucial to motivating employees to want to work, beyond just collecting a check, and doing only what’s necessary. Relationships tap into the heart of our social being and deepest motivation in life’s purposes. Cultivating great relationships with employees is also a pre-cursor to building great relationships with our customers. If you’re disconnected with your teams, you can’t relate to your customers. We spend more waking hours at work with our teams than our families; if you don’t feel connected, you may find yourself searching for your next job.
Following are relational skills they teach their employees and leaders within their client organizations:
1. Knowing and caring during your work interactions
For example, at the beginning of any work meeting, take 5-15 minutes to check in with everyone around the table. Ask about their celebrations, challenges, or struggles. If you have heavy things on your mind and heart, it’s hard to focus at work; engaging with others on those thoughts may help you know what you can put on their plates without overwhelming them even more. In turn, this makes them feel cared for. Out of awareness, you will know how to serve them well in whatever capacity is needed.
People may argue that you don’t need to bring your personal business to work, but that is a myth. The truth is, you do bring your personal business to work. So, as a leader or team member, either be overt and acknowledge it openly, or unknowingly miss opportunities to bond with others. For instance, you may end up dumping an extra workload on someone who just received some negative news about a family member. That will make them feel even more overwhelmed and uncared for. The emotions will come out at some point regardless, so why not deal with the matter openly? By taking time to get to know your employees, you will learn more about them and can show empathy. When you really show that you care, they begin to trust you and want to stay on your team.
2. Building a mutually trusting relationship
Another common myth is that if you’re a leader, you need to be invulnerable. Truth is, you can’t trust people you don’t know. You must know and care, and be vulnerable and open, as you hope they will be with you. If you’re a leader, you should set the example.
These first two steps will expose whether a leader is willing or not to be mutually vulnerable. It is a quick way to tell if someone is all about themselves or if they genuinely care about getting to know others. You want people that go the extra mile on your teams. Most will not do this voluntarily, so be the one who presses in and invests in others. As a recruiter in my organization, I speak from experience how important this step is. Trust is key to attracting strong talent and it is only built by taking time to invest in getting to know someone. Over the years I have been in my profession, I have seen the value of building trust become more significant in the quality of people I find to fill our open positions. It’s like anything else – dating, parenting, teaching, serving, or building – if you don’t have the trust of the one you’re targeting, your time is wasted.
3. Experience joint shared vision and joint accomplishment
Get it done as a team. Most corporate teams try to go to this third step first. Most corporations have solid intentions in shared visions with their teams and collaboration methods for accomplishment. However, they have not walked through the first two steps, so the results can be painful and will eventually cause increased pressure. Inevitably when pressure increases, the team will fracture under the stress.
4. Opportunities that come through increased creativity and deepened connectivity
This step is where you have eliminated most of the fear of any members on the team. Fear comes from not trusting others and from fear of failure. Team members are now positioned to put their best strengths into play and know where they’re needed, shared and enjoyed by all others on the team. This is where true creativity begins to happen within the organization. When these steps have all been walked through, deepened creativity will be set free. They’ve built the trust and accomplished something together.
What are some of the results from following such steps in building relationships within an organization?
1. The most recent effort Jim and Jane saw was in a position of new managers, as the turnover rate dropped from 54% to 17% annually. Other areas that decrease significantly are employee absenteeism, employee conflicts, and employee complaints and lawsuits.
2. Gallup has done extensive tracking of financial performance indicators improving in companies that care about their people, resulting in up to 70% from the team improvement and another 70% when you take these steps out to your customers. Whether this is focused on employees or customers, this can save the company a lot of money and increase profit. Referral rates are increased as well, as you increase customer loyalty significantly. Once you have these tools mastered in your organization, you can begin using the same principles with your customers and increase retention and profitability.
So how do we break through the digital age and keep the human interaction component a large factor of success? You must have a baseline of face-to-face contact. This must be in at least two different settings. First with team meetings and secondly with one-on-one meetings. You must decide that taking time upfront to meet with people and get to know them will ultimately save time and money long-term.
We need to ask ourselves, why do we resist building relationships when we see all these positive effects? Most people that don’t want to take the time to invest in building relationships, or believe they do not have the time, are usually already in crisis mode, and are in most need of help in cultivating these relationships. For the success most of us are after and the connection we seek, we could get to them more efficiently if we took the time to go the extra mile. Teams will perform at higher levels, which ultimately will be more superior within your organization. There will be mutual trust established.
The problems of busyness and dependency on virtual rather than human connection are increasingly growing, especially since the steady shift from a rural population to an urban population. In larger cities, you also see a lot more people losing connection. Employees with each passing generation are showing up at work with more of a need for human interaction than ever before and, if they don’t get it, they move on. For leaders of employers who grew up in more intact homes but are getting more disconnected employees, it’s even more paramount for them to learn how to build valuable relationships. This is already a major competitive advantage for companies that are figuring this out.
To conclude, what do we take away from all of this? As my tagline states in my LinkedIn profile, “building success through people,” connection and relationships with people are at the heart of our success and growth. People are our most valuable resource, so taking the time to get to know them can have a positive outcome in any situation we can think of, personal or professional.
In an era where virtual reality is overtaking personal relationships, it is more important than ever to be aware of the people around you. One person may be the one catalyst that impacts you or your company in a monumental way. By cultivating trust first, you will set yourself up for lifelong success.
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