“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending that we are individuals that can go it alone.” – Margaret Wheatley
The true foundation of business comes down to people working together to make something happen. On the surface, it looks like I am in construction, specialized equipment, and safety gear businesses, but the reality is those are all outcomes. The truth is, I am in the people business. Without relationships with our customers, vendors, and employees, my companies will not be successful.
Of the hundreds of career and business opportunities I have been involved with over the past 38 years, every single one is the result of a relationship I cultivated. A benefit to developing strong business relationships is they can open doors to new opportunities. In fact, one of my biggest successes happened when some of my connections provided an introduction that allowed me to expand my network.
When opportunity knocks, it is always a person knocking: Several years ago, our masonry company was looking for a way to get an audience with the Cincinnati division of one of the largest general contractors in the world. We wanted to do business with them, but they did not know us. To our advantage, we had previously worked with their Columbus, OH and Pittsburgh divisions. The trust and credibility already established with these sister business units made the Cincinnati group receptive to our request for a meeting. While our connection to their subsidiaries opened a door, we knew it provided us no guarantees.
I, along with our president, senior project manager, safety manager, chief financial officer, jobsite superintendent, and job administrator met with their team and discussed their vision and expectation for the project. Then we showed them how our company could benefit them. We closed the deal and it resulted in a $20 million project for us, the biggest ever obtained by our masonry business. While I am confident that our safety, quality and productivity were considerations in awarding us the contract, without the relationship we had built with their counterparts, we likely would have never gotten the opportunity to meet with them.
Once we secured the job, we used the relationships we had built with sub-contractors (SC) to help us complete the work. One SC was Buckeye Construction and Restoration (BCR), which had tremendous restoration knowledge and played a big part in the project. Our relationship grew stronger with BCR to the point we later merged and became partners with their company.
Once you secure the work, you must keep the relationship strong: If a relationship goes sour, customers can always find flaws in otherwise high-quality work: Our General Contracting (GC) company built a facility for a client that had lots of concrete on it. We poured the concrete and it showed hairline cracks like normal. However, our project manager (PM) was constantly fighting with the customer over trivial things and in the process, he lost the relationship. Therefore, these normal cracks were perceived as damaged walls and slabs by our customer. The customer scrutinized everything else we did on the project as well. Even issues we did not create were levied against us as the infighting continued. Instead of attempting to fix the relationship, our PM continued to fight in a failed attempt to protect our company at every turn. We ended up in years of lawsuits and in the end, the $1.6 million project costs us $2.4 million to build. Of course, the PM is no longer with our company.
Instead of fighting, take the hit: A customer gets mad. A vendor complains about poor service. A mutual friend feels slighted. Sometimes, whatever the issue and regardless of who is at fault, some people step in and take the hit. They are willing to accept the criticism or abuse because they know they can handle it, and they know that maybe, just maybe, the other person cannot. Few acts are more selfless than taking the undeserved hit. And few acts better cement a relationship.
When we invest in relationships, we must sometimes make decisions about how to handle a situation that may not be to our advantage in the short-term. But we know that it will build the relationship and be to everyone’s advantage in the long-term. Whether we are dealing with clients, vendors, or fellow employees, we must invest the time, energy, and care to build relationships; for these relationships are a cornerstone of our success. Our decisions should honor and strengthen these relationships.
Professional success is important to everyone, but still, success in business and in life means different things to different people, as well it should. But one fact is universal: Real success, the kind that exists on multiple levels, is impossible without building great relationships. Real success is impossible unless you treat other people with kindness, regard, and respect.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Give consistently, receive occasionally: When you are attempting to establish a relationship, do not focus on what you want, instead, the emphasis should be on what you can give that benefits the other person. A great relationship is mutually beneficial. In business terms that means connecting with people who can be mentors, who can share information, and who can help create other connections. The person who builds great relationships does not think about what he wants; he starts by thinking about what he can give. He sees giving as the best way to establish a real relationship and a lasting connection. He approaches building relationships as if it is all about the other person and not about him, and in the process builds relationships with people who follow the same approach. In time they make real connections. And in time they make real friends.