If you are a business professional or owner today, success is more and more about relationships. People relationships are the key to career growth, more than results, and customer relationships build brands, rather than the other way around. In this era of communication overload with many misleading messages, we have learned to count first on the people we know well, even virtually.
In fact, I believe that for all of us, relationships are our most important asset. Yet I find in my business advisory activities that busy entrepreneurs and professionals, especially the introverts like me, find it hard to spend the necessary time networking and nurturing the relationships they need to get ahead. The result is slow growth, frustration, and exhaustion, rather than success.
I recently saw some real insight on the barriers to building relationships, and how to get around them, in a new book, “Success Is in Your Sphere,” by Zvi Band. He has a proven track record, despite being an introvert himself, of building and managing relationship-oriented businesses and tools, and is now a well-recognized speaker and writer on this subject.
Here is a summary of the barriers we both still see all too often in the business world, with some thoughts on how to overcome them:
- Many fear human limits in the number of relationships. It’s true, we all have limits on the number of relationships we can manage. According to studies, intimate relationships are limited to about five, but most people can easily handle 50 to 150 or more professional ones, if they work at it. That’s more than enough to put you ahead of your competition.
In fact, you can get far beyond that number if you take advantage of the tools, process, and technology out there today, such as social media, text messaging, email, customer relationship systems (CRM), and discipline yourself to prioritize relationship building.
- Most let existing relationships decay over time. That’s a natural human reaction to accepting new relationships, as required by normal daily activities. The challenge is to continually refresh important old ones, and to proactively add key new ones on a regular basis. Busy business professionals often tell me they are too busy to allow networking.
I recommend setting aside some time each week for networking, including phone calls to key advisors, lunches, emailing follow-up to contacts, and regular attendance at business and industry events, to reconnect to old relationships, as well as build new ones.
- Our social and relationship needs change as we age. The general trend shows an increase in relationship network size during adolescence and young adulthood, but a “continuous decrease” afterward. Many business professionals also feel more confident about their own knowledge and abilities over time, so tend to rely on fewer relationships.
Don’t forget that the world of business and technology is changing rapidly around you, so the ability to change and keep up is becoming more and more the key to your success. Top business executives, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, are always proactively seeking new relationships in areas that are relevant to their business interests.
- Good relationships are harder to decipher than ever. First of all, the age of the Internet makes every relationship search a global affair, with thousands of candidates. The good news is the wealth of alternatives; the bad news is the time and effort required to select the right relationship, and then keep it going. Sorting it all out is the challenge.
Fortunately, we have Facebook, Skype, and other social media, with video, voice, and easy travel to help you build and maintain connections, anywhere in the world. Smart professionals use these facilities to hone their perspective and get the help they need.
- Short-term thinking overwhelms long-term value. As humans, we are instinctively wired to prefer short-term gains to long-term benefits. Some of your best potential relationships may take years to bear fruit, which poses a challenge when we’re predisposed to urgent issues rather than long-term strategies and future opportunities.
My advice in business is to adopt a portfolio strategy for relationships, as you would as an investor in stocks or startups, with the understanding that there will be winners and losers over time, as the world changes. Don’t just invest in the passion of the moment.
The message here is that relationships are your key business asset, and not just an ancillary pleasure or burden. Keep them high on your priority list, and work everyone with key tools and discipline. When leveraged properly, relationships can be your most effective sustainable competitive advantage in growing your business or your career. Make the investment today.