“Relationships are hard to build when you need them.”
The best business advice I’ve ever received (which is also applicable to personal relationships) is very simple: start building relationships right away. Relationships serve as the turbo-charger that leads to initial success, sustained success and long-term goals. No matter how introverted, how individualistic or innovative we are, we cannot make it on our own.
We’re social creatures who need help. We desire help. We may have the best idea on the planet, but to make it work, we’ll need assistance from freelancers, inventors, entrepreneurs and other businesses. The best business is not a sole proprietorship. It’s a unit of people, who are able to inspire and motivate each other, critique and challenge one another, and come out better on the other side.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people.” — Steve Jobs
I recently started working for Benefitfocus, a growing software company that provides a customizable technology platform that helps organizations manage their benefits all in one place. I’ve been tasked to lead and implement major projects. This company was a start-up that grew into an industry leader in its field, largely based on the quality of the product, but equally as important, on the integrity of business relationships.
Shawn Jenkins and Mason Holland built this company from the ground up, forming a partnership which started at a previous company and carried into the idea of what is today Benefitfocus. Like many successful tech companies before them, their secret is the bonding of a great relationship.
As I started my new role, I met with a senior leader of the company who told me:
Relationships are hard to build when you need them.
Think about it — how often do we scramble to try and make things work without having built any relationship capital with people? And how often does that ever work out for you?
I’ve seen this all throughout my career. Authentic business relationships are built on curiosity, candor and a willingness to help. As I’ve entered this new organization, I’ve made a point to schedule meetings with as many senior leaders that are willing to meet with me. I’ve met the “worker bees” who make the operations function smoothly.
I’ve met the sales reps, marketing folks, and product managers. All of these actions contribute to helping me learn, so I can give more back in return. You might think, certain aspects of the business won’t help me perform my daily job tasks better. And you’re right — solely from a task execution standpoint.
But forging relationships helps increase our mental inventory of knowledge. We learn what will work in this environment and what won’t. We gather knowledge on organizational politics, leadership and history. So much of what defines success at a job is learning the company history, finding what makes people tick and showing a genuine desire to help.
The Time is Today
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”– Dale Carnegie
The time to build these vitally important work relationships is day one! Whether you’re at a startup, hedge fund, food services company or ad agency, you will benefit exponentially from building powerful relationships. It has to be real. It has to be authentic and genuine. If you’re just doing it with the intent to climb the ladder or “game the system”, people will sniff the phoniness a mile away. And they won’t want to help.
But if you’re willing to add more value, go give more than what you receive — if you truly approach business matters with that mindset — I guarantee you that you will get more than you give. Our CEO recently told a story of how Michael Jordan is famous for talking about how the game of basketball gave him so much more back than he gave.
We may think as objective observers, “Yeah right!” No one has given more — especially as a player — to the game of basketball than the great Jordan. But he feels otherwise. And that’s because he gave everything to the game, so it repaid him in return.
Start early. Don’t start giving of yourself or building relationships only when you need them. You’ll be left hanging. You’ll lose. Relationships collect serious compound interest over time! So it’s best to begin early if you’re looking to grow in your career, and find yourself well-positioned to live life on your terms.
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