You’ve worked in the corporate world for over 30 years – has the way we conduct our business relationships changed much in that time? Or is it the way we regard our professional relationships that has changed?
Good question but now I feel really old!
There are some major differences in business relationships now. Obviously, the advent of technology has had an impact.
Many of the companies I worked for were very sales oriented but it seemed that there was always much more time for developing both internal and external relationships. It was quite common for you to go to lunch or for drinks with your work colleagues. And those were the days where leisurely lunches and dinners – including alcohol – with business contacts were commonplace. It was accepted that there was a social side to business relationships.
We are more geographically distant now. It’s hard to forge strong business relationships with people on the other side of the world and in a different time zone. So international business relationships – where perhaps face-to-face contact is even more important – suffer.
As the speed and pressures of modern life have increased, it has become difficult to justify spending time with colleagues within and outside your company. There’s partly a macho thing of not needing to take a break that you sometimes see in the City, partly the knowledge that if you take time out of your day to be with people then you will probably have to work out-of-hours to catch up and the strict distinction between work and personal life that you see in some of the younger generation.
Finally, in modern business environments, there’s always pressure to increase productivity and deliver results. You need to prove return on investment – even on your time. And as business relationships don’t always deliver immediate or predictable results, they can suffer.
Central to Better Business Relationships is your DACRIE model, which you use with your own clients as a consultant. How did the model come about?
During my career I have been fascinated by the interplay between my two passions – psychology and business management. There were two paths to the creation of the model.
The first path was my clients, who are mostly professional service firms with people who are highly intelligent and who provide their knowledge and advice as a service. They were always asking me for training and coaching support on various “soft skills” – how to get on with people better – as well as building capabilities in areas such as persuasion, writing, presenting, team building and selling.
The second path was working as a consultant developing strategy and helping companies implement those strategies. You can’t create strategy without engaging people in the process of analysis, discussion and decision-making. And you certainly can’t implement strategy without having leadership, teams, delegation and motivation. While there is a lot of information about change management from an organisational perspective, I was keen to address both the personal and organisational issues of change.
The DACRIE model covers all the components to consider:
Difference and diversity – whether personality, team style, gender, cognitive style, race, culture, etc.
Adaptation – how individuals learn and how change is promoted within groups and organisations
Communication – vital for all relationships and the impact of face-to-face, telephone, written material and digital media
Relationships – how relationships form and how conflict, a natural part of relationships, can be averted and managed
Internal relationships – how people become a part of teams, how line managers supervise people, how you motivate and develop your future leaders
External relationships – how we sell ourselves, ideas and services; the basics of selling and client relationship management and how we manage large complex and multi-faceted relationships with major clients
What are the key differences between how ‘digital natives’ – those who have grown up with the internet – and ‘digital immigrants’ – those who have learned to use it in their adult lives – approach business relationships?
I’d offer some observations about my grown children but they probably wouldn’t be happy too about that!
Digital immigrants grew up in a different world and try to translate established behaviours into the digital environment and it doesn’t always work. Similarly, those who have grown up in a digital space often don’t know how to interact when they are not in front of a screen.
There are lots of theories about digital natives – they are “always on”, expect instant gratification, are less resilient, expect equality and fairness and want to make an immediate impact. Business relationships don’t always work like that – and can take time to become established. Authenticity is an issue too. It’s easy in the digital space to portray just one version of yourself. In reality you can listen to what is said and observe non-verbal communication to gain a greater understanding of people.
Digital communication is often briefer and to the point, making it less likely that you can take the conversation a little off topic and perhaps start building the relationship. It’s less nuanced than speaking to someone face-to-face.
In a digital space, if you don’t like what someone says you can turn off the device or block them. In the real world it’s not quite that simple. You need to develop skills to identify, prevent and resolve differences.
One of the reasons I wrote the book was to help the younger generation to understand and integrate within the business world more quickly and overcome the obstacles with less stress. And to help the older generation be more open to the opportunities of building and sustaining relationships in the digital space.
What further changes to the workplace do you predict as the ratio of ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’ employees shifts?
On the upside, life will be become more efficient for sure. Everyone will have access to the same information. Dull, routine jobs will be a thing of the past. It will be more equalitarian. It will be easier to identify and reach people with whom you want to connect. It should be easier for people to form teams and be productive. Diversity will improve and that leads to richer interactions and better decision-making.
On the downside, life will become faster and more digital – perhaps losing a lot more face time interactions. Robotics and automation will become commonplace and we may lose yet more of those interactions we have with real people. More people may work remotely and become isolated. There will be potentially less social support in the workplace and an associated increase in stress and poor mental health. Those who understand how to deal with people – to select and manage, train and guide, motivate and develop them – will have a distinct advantage.
And of course there will be a rebalancing of power – those who have the best content and wisdom (the digital immigrants) may no longer get as much recognition and respect as those who are adept at creating extensive networks to distribute information. The downside is that we will have to work harder to discern good quality information and advice. The upside is that we should be exposed to more diverse ideas and many more of them.
Better Business Relationships is available on Bloomsbury.com