Written for TakeON! by Paul Stewart of ON-Brand Partners
It’s widely accepted that the quality of relationships we have with customers and employees creates intangible value, which in time, generates real business value. So why wouldn’t we adopt a similar mindset in relation to other stakeholders?
“The only value your business has are its relationships; your business is your relationships”.
I’ve always been struck by this quote by James Moore, who at the time was with the Gartner Group. Some might think that’s a little simplistic and, to be sure, it’s what’s created through those relationships that is ultimately important. But at its core, I stick to the view that an organisation is simply a group of people that comes together to create something of value for others. So, the way relationships are woven into the fabric or organisations is fundamental to what value is created. No relationships, no value. Weak relationships, weak value. Enduring and growing relationships, enduring and growing value.
But when I ask, “What relationships are we talking about?”, the typical response is, “With customers, of course”. Some will add, “and with our employees”. But few will think laterally and take a more 360-degree view.
360 DEGREE DISCONNECT
You can gain a very interesting perspective when you have multiple relationships with companies as both a customer and a supplier. A professional colleague shared a great anecdote with me recently. His company had been asked to tender for piece of work with a bank. Coincidentally, both he and his company were customers of the bank.
With a spare 30 minutes before the meeting, he dropped into the bank branch to deal with some personal business. The service he received was warm, welcoming and helpful – a point he acknowledged to the branch manager. The response was, “That’s what we stand for.”
In contrast, the ‘supplier’ meeting could not have been more different. The reception he received was cold (after being met very late), the discussion was almost purely transactional and the tone was confrontational. His suggestion that if they provided further detail his company could strengthen up aspects of the proposed approach was dismissed. And finally, he received the proverbial “don't call us, we’ll call you”.
In fact, the bank did call, but to their surprise my colleague’s company turned down the opportunity, purely based on the way they had been treated. A loss for the bank, because his company has become known as the pre-eminent provider of services of that type – easily a potential blow to their competitive advantage.
The point here is that people are people. Supplier loyalty is no less valuable than customer loyalty. Plus, of course, you never know when your supplier might turn out to be your customer in the future!
THE FUTURE IS HERE, IT'S JUST NOT EVENLY DISTRIBUTED
I really believe that the more progressive organisations are moving beyond the traditional paradigm that one stakeholder must always be subservient to the other. That may not appeal to the ‘big personalities’ in business who thrive on being dominant, but it’s happening. New Zealand’s Mike and Helga Pratt, in their study of Sustainable Peak Performance, unpicked the partnership construct that is essential to companies like Dilmah Tea, Stonyfield Farm, Patagonia, and Snowy Peak. Companies that must be on-brand right through end-to-end value chain, including all the suppliers and service providers involved in it.
Similar themes – in particular the concept of relationships being shaped from the viewpoint of shared value – underpin the concept of Conscious Capitalism. (Talk to our good friends at Blacksmith if you want to know more about this emerging school of thought).
I have promoted the view myself that the global financial crisis was a catalyst to change what we – as consumers and citizens – most want from our relationships with organisations. I believe we are now seeking:
In essence, I believe that for organisations, the most enduring and constructive relationships will increasingly be founded on principles of partnership. To embed these principles, you must start and continue with open and constructive dialogue. But here’s a tip: start that dialogue with what you offer to the relationship, before talking about what you expect from it.
BUILDING IT INTO THE BLUEPRINT
As ON-Brand Partners, we are serious about partnership. So, naturally, these partnership principles underpin our TakeON! offering. Developed from years of experience in transforming performance by mobilising people to deliver on their promise, TakeON!’s flexible framework was purpose-built to be accessible for organisations all over the world. And that’s why we are building a network of expertdelivery partners who can assist these organisations to implement and embed TakeON! into their regular business routines.
Not only is it based around a partnership-based business model – TakeON! itself has these principles at its core. The whole model is designed around the delivery of ongoing value to customers – the focus is on transferring capability, rather than keeping expensive consultants in place. We know it’s critical that the people inside the client organisations drive the change themselves and really own the process of applying TakeON! tools, resources and framework to their own environment. When this happens, those that experience it say it's radically different than the model of dependence established by the traditional people-shop consulting approach.
With all this in mind, I recommend looking at how the core construct of your relationships, with all stakeholders, could evolve to meet the demands of the future. You might even start a conversation about it with your team, your department, or better still, the entire organisation. Interesting things happen when you shape a different conversation.