Basics of Healthy Enterprise Relationships

The Basics of Health Relationship Enterprise

Nothing can make an enterprise more profitable than healthy relationships. Relationships with customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies, etc. Most of what we see today, that is called “collaboration” is not really, is it people talking AT each other on line, trying to be heard and recognized, and I believe ultimately trying to connect.

Nothing I know of can cause more pain than a broken relationship. Weather the trust is broken, or those involved don’t really have a common context to communicate within, broken relationships cost money.  They cost hard dollars; usually those dollars are a conversion of time to money. Where most relationships break down is around time. With a true connection in the spirit of collaboration, time has less impact because there are multiple connection points, or channels between those in the relationship.  Many of the tools we use today to support those relationships don’t.  They support people more efficiently talking AT each other and believing that is collaboration and a working relationship.

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With a global economy, relationships are what makes’ the world go round. A good relationship is often of incalculable value (literally), and we all know when we have been in one.  We want to work with those people again, there is a sense of joy  and anticipation in the interaction, the limitations of the tools in transferring information or knowledge are easily overcome by the desire of all parties to understand, and work within a common context.

I have thought about collaboration and relationships for over 25 years, and although collaboration is more popular than ever, I see no great increase in profitable enterprise relationships than I did 25 years ago.  We have more sophisticated tools, and maybe some hard won best practices, but rarely do we have true collaboration.  If we do it is something that is often preserved at all costs, because what comes out of these relationships is often remarkable.

images (34)As part of an enterprise, or even a medium or small company, maybe some of what I have said hits home. It is not all bad news, as the first step in change is consciousness, knowing that there is a problem. I liken enterprise relationships to many of those we learned growing up. In my dysfunctional family, I thought our way of interacting was normal, and was comfortable with that and used it for many years. Only when I got to see that other people did not interact the same way, did I become aware or conscious that my behaviors might not be the best in getting the outcomes I desired.  I had to find others who were more successful in their relationships and start to model my behavior after theirs.

The same is true in an enterprise. I have seen examples of how true collaboration has changed an organization.  Comcast is a good example.  I have been Comcast customer for years and never happy with their customer service, which I thought was perfunctory.

However, Frank Eliason, now the Senior Director, Comcast National Customer Service, understood that the relationship between Comcast and its customers was broken. He used Twitter as a way to create a new context for this relationship, and backed it up with new behaviors (actually getting answers to customer’s questions or complaints). The relationship that was created was so powerful, and go so much attention that it changed the culture at Comcast from one of a bandwidth and technology provider to a customer service organization that actually had interactions and a relationship with their customers. This interaction was so powerful that it changed the culture at Comcast from one posing as a relationship where people talked AT each other trying to justify their position, to a culture of true service and relationship.  I believe Comcast’s bottom line has also reflected this change.

Since I am still a Comcast customer, I can say that their service has gotten better over the last few years.  They seem to have more of a commitment to the customer, as many people are “cord cutting” these days and getting rid of cable.  If Google has it’s way with its fiberoptic service, Comcast will have a true rival.

Since consciousness is the first step in change, now that you are conscious, and aware of the problems with some of your enterprise relationships I can give you 5 rules on how to make these relationships work better and be more profitable.

Understand the Reason for the Relationship

What is the purpose, goal or outcome for the relationship? Is there a critical process involved? When those in organizations are asked why they want from the relationship, the answer I got most often was to site a benefit like, lower travel costs, ability to post more information to more people (than email), a common secure place to store documents.  These are all features on outcomes.

These are not really answers to the question, but rather are convoluted ways of saying we want our relationships to support the “status quo” rather than support the environment of change, and move into a more conscious relationship. It is another way of saying that we are OK with these poor interactions because that is what we are used to and we don’t see the value in creating new and better relationships.

Another way to look at the reason for critical enterprise relationships is to ask “What are the business behaviors my organization needs to have, to achieve the results I am looking for?”  An organization that has thought about the value of relationships and how they impact the bottom line, might respond with something like this “Because we need to increase our revenues by $10m to stay competitive in this market, we want to use our customer and supplier relationships/partnerships to determine how we can increase our value to the marketplace and earn the increased revenues.”

Trust and Commitment in Relationships

Trust is thought to be critical for relationships and is the basis for commitments or partnership.  However, I would say that trust is not really enough.  Rather it is understanding “local context” that is critical for virtual teams to work well. Local context is understanding not only the role and situation of each of your team mates, but also a bit about their corporate culture as well as their country culture.  Local context is critical for establishing a common context.  Without a common context a true relationship or interaction is not possible. Once this local context and trust are established then agreements about commitment can flourish in a common context where assumptions are aired, and coordination becomes a part of the process instead of an added burden on the process itself.


Everyone is here to do their part and they deserve our respect. Respect is a commitment we make to people to always treat that person right and honorably. In the context of an enterprise relationship it is the willingness to hear your partner (supplier, customer, etc.) understand what they are saying and change your behavior accordingly.  This is very scary for many people, as they are comfortable with the enterprise dysfunction, it allows people to hide.  In a true relationship it is hard for anyone to hide. Everyone in the relationship knows what the commitments were that created the relationship.

Obviously there are differences between us, but it is important to remember that we are all connected, both in a spiritual sense but also in an economic sense. Although you don’t see the effect you have on product supply, your lack of respect for your contact at your Asian supplier has caused you to limit your interactions with him.  The outcome of this stunted relationship is that the quality of the widgets the Asian supplier is delivering to you is suffering, along with many of the shipments being short or late. Although neither you nor your supplier contact had any idea that their relationship was not only having an effect on that product in the marketplace, but is also negatively affecting the product brand.


This one might seem obvious, but it is what allows us to verbalize our feelings, attitudes and thoughts, those things that are inside of us. We do this in an effort to have others see us, but it is also part of connection with another person, team, group, department or organization.  Communication is enough to get by, support business as usual, but not enough to support collaboration (working together for a specific purpose or goal).  Communication is critical for building healthy relationships, but it is also a trap.  It can give you a false feeling of wellness, and also lower your standard of connection. Most tools used today do support communication (in a wide variety of forms), what they enable us to do is to talk AT many others more effectively.


What is the relationship in service of?  If you focus on what your customer or supplier needs rather than what you need, chances are that you will get your needs met, and increase revenues.  The trick here is to shift the focus from what you need and help those you are in relationship with meet their needs. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, and you worry about, OK they get what they need but who will help me get what I need? As a salesperson your role is to help your clients to understand their needs, and how you can help them meet those needs. If you focus on how you can serve them rather than how they can serve you, the relationship will not only be healthier, but sales will increase… guaranteed!

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There are many other rules for successful enterprise relationships, and maybe at today’s level of technical sophistication, there are a few tools out there that will support true collaboration and great enterprise relationships. However, such tools need to not only support communication, but also support trust, local context, clear metrics (of value) and be integrated with personal and corporate goals and initiatives.

No tool for relationships is perfect, as no relationships are perfect.  Relationships because they are composed of living beings also have a life of their own. My next blog will talk about the natural cycles of relationships, and how to use this to your advantage.