I once worked with a senior executive who was amazing at building relationships with his organization. His leadership team revered him. People in his organization further down the organization chart admired him. When I asked people on his team why they liked him so much, I heard two basic themes. First, he communicated multi-directionally. He spoke with all his employees at various levels, and he listened to and applied their feedback. Second, he made sound, fact-based decisions which he openly shared (as appropriate). People respected his decisions – even the most painful, unpopular ones.

After working with him for a while, I saw a pattern emerge in his style. He was a relationship builder. He took time to learn about each of his people. He took time to understand his leadership team’s ideas and concerns about decisions he had to make. He took time every week during a massive change project to meet with all the employees in his unit – about 200 of them – to share progress and receive feedback. At the core of this was his ability to ask questions while advocating a position. He was masterful at building relationships of trust with people.

During times of notable change, a leader must take time to build relationships. Part of being an active and visible sponsor is to understand employee sentiment regarding change, and acting on it productively to mold success. If the leader fails to build these relationships, employees won’t be engaged, and the following results occur:


Inferior quality. If employees don’t have a chance to air their opinions or concerns, chances are the project will miss important requirements for the change.
Delays. Last minute discoveries happen usually because an insufficient number of people had opportunity to comment on the change. This leads to costly delays and missed deadlines.
Unsustainable. The worst possible fate for a change is that it is unstainable. The primary cause is lack of engagement by employees. Proper relationship building leads to improved engagement.

How do you build relationships in your organization?
Be clear on your purpose. Building a relationship with employees to drive change includes clearly communicating your intent, and expressing this in terms of expected outcomes. Don’t lead off your communications with this, but know this before you begin your communication.
Be approachable. Drop the titles. Eliminate any air of superiority. Be genuine in your desire to learn people’s perspective.
Ask questions. Talk less, ask more. Use a combination of yes/no and open-ended questions. The former provide direction for the discussion; the latter provides deep insight.
Understand resistance. I love resistance. Without it you might never hear about things that could go wrong.
Call to action. At the end of a conversation, ask for a commitment. Ask people to engage with the change, or at least to be open minded to it. Do not underestimate the power of the ask.

When appropriate relationships are built, and employees are engaged in the change, the change becomes much more sustainable, and the probability increases to achieve or exceed value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
Steve

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