It’s hard for me to believe that in 2016, a full eight years after I published the original edition of Relationship Economics, I still see a broad range of professionals undervaluing the asset that is your portfolio of relationships. Whether you’re a frontline contributor or a senior executive, your ability to reach your goals is closely tied to your ability to leverage the value in your connections with other people.
To put it simply, we all tend to prioritize the people we like, respect, and trust. When they ask something of us, we respond, and we expect they will do the same for us. I characterize these as strategic relationships – the people of whom we can truly say we are both better off for knowing each other.
I have identified five phases in the development of these strategic relationships. Why not make it your goal to master the skills, knowledge, and behavior related to these stages in the year ahead?
Phase 1: Identifying
Find out who can add specific value to your life. You cannot invest in everybody equally, so how will you be proactive about identifying who is worth your time and, likewise, to whom you can be of value? How can you connect with them?
Phase 2: Relating
Once introduced to a potentially strategic relationship, start creating a connection that makes you what I call an “object of interest” – someone who is worth their time to get to know. Strategic relationships form between individuals – not logos, not brochures – so bring your own authenticity, your candor, and your emotional intelligence to this phase. Make commitments you can keep, and follow through. That will build trust and confidence in your integrity.
Phase 3: Nurturing
In this phase, you show another person the full value of having a relationship with you. Constantly be open to insights about what this person needs, how urgently they need it, and what you can offer to meet that need with a high level of competency. This nurturing phase is where you differentiate yourself from others in how you add value.
Most importantly, be sure to confirm that the value you deliver is recognized. The goal of this phase is to shift your relationships from valuing what you give them to valuing you.
Phase 4: Sustaining
Keep your strategic relationship strong by proactively staying in touch. Use regular contact to deepen your relevance for each other by encouraging others to reveal more of themselves. Identify or create opportunities to weave others into the relationship, which will create a resilient web of relationships.
If your strategic relationship is mentoring someone, for example, invite that person to join you next time you have lunch, or invite this individual to come meet your team.
This phase is characterized by trust and candor. You know you have a sustainable relationship when the other person will tell you if you make a mistake.
Phase 5: Capitalizing
Until this phase, this process has concerned what other people need from you. It has been about finding ways to demonstrate your unique value-add.
You will know a relationship is ripe for this final step when you see signals that you have become an object of interest. If your emails and phone calls are promptly returned, if your offer to meet for coffee gets on the calendar, if the other person initiates invitations, then you are ready to access the value you have built in the relationship. You can make occasional requests of this strategic relationship.
To effectively frame your requests, be clear and specific about what you want; allow the person a reasonable amount of time to respond; make it easy for them to follow through (for example, by attaching a resume if you are asking for an introduction); and express gratitude when someone agrees to your request. If someone chooses not to assist you, then don’t force the issue.
The Fluidity of the Phases
It is important to recognize that you don’t stop doing one phase once you progress to the next; you fluidly move between them. You can always shift back to a previous phase without losing momentum, but you can only move the relationship one stage further than it has gone before – and only when it’s ready. So, a relationship that has reached the sustaining phase can shift back to relating or nurturing, and then move directly into capitalizing – but you can’t push a person to whom you’re still relating directly to the capitalizing phase.
You thought I was going to give you tips like “Go to more networking functions” or “Be sure you always have business cards on you,” didn’t you? Those are important behaviors, but they’re mere table stakes in today’s economy. The relationship focus that will truly speed your progress toward your goals is based on deepening relationships through these five phases intentionally and consistently. Try it in 2016, and you will see that being relationship-focused pays dividends as valuable as any that show up on an organization’s balance sheet!
- Identify people you can add value for and relate to them in ways that make you an “object of interest.”
- Nurture these relationships by investing energy and sustain them by creating opportunities for regular interactions.
- When you have sufficiently invested in identifying, relating, nurturing, and sustaining, you can capitalize on these relationships with an occasional “ask.”