It was somewhere around the early 2000s when business consultants latched on to the idea of promoting relationship cultivation as a way to get ahead. Some two decades later, relationships are still a hot topic among business experts. That seems strange given the fact that relationships have always defined business interactions.
Any time one person interacts with another, you have a relationship being developed. It is unavoidable. That is what relationships are, by definition. So why so much focus on relationship cultivation in the business environment? It is probably due to the changing nature of relationships. This is the real issue at hand.
Business Relationships in the Past
Looking back over past decades of business history clearly shows that the relationships developed by previous generations were quite different compared to what we expect today. It’s not that they were less personal, but those involved focused more on getting things done than nurturing positive emotions.
You can clearly see the change just by comparing current and past management styles. Fifty years ago, business management in America was based on a top-down model. A business owner maintained ultimate control. They delegated authority to their management team who, in turn, ensured that front-line workers did their jobs. It is completely different today.
Modern owners and managers are expected to be collaborators. They are expected to collaborate with front-line workers as both peers and superiors simultaneously. Managers are expected to foster relationships with their workers that, to the untrained eye, may seem more personal than they should be.
Business Relationships in 2021
Today’s business relationships are less likely than ever before to be rooted in top-down thinking. Today’s companies think horizontally rather than vertically. Business consultants stress nurturing relationships in ways that give as much attention to those relationships as actually getting the job done. A good example of this is found in a BenefitMall blog post published in mid-February 2021.
That post focused on building relationships as a benefits broker. It talked mainly about how brokers can be more effective at the sales game by being better relationship builders. BenefitMall offered a number of tips including being more positive, being less formal, and adopting a partnership mentality.
No matter where you look, the emphasis seems to be on avoiding absolutely anything that could be perceived as negative. In some circles, avoiding the negative is taken to such extremes that content creators are not even allowed to use verbs in the negative form.
Relationship Foundations Have Changed
None of what constitutes a modern business relationship is inherently bad. It’s simply different. Business relationships have changed because their foundations have changed. That’s the real key, whether you are a broker selling benefits packages or a middle manager trying to motivate your team to be better.
Fifty years ago, the foundation of most business relationships was just that: business. People interacted in a business environment for the sole purpose of getting business done. It worked well for that time. Today, that sort of relationship won’t fly – because the foundation has changed.
People take things a lot more personally in 2021. Thus, the foundation is no longer strictly business. Rather, it is business conducted in a way that makes people feel good about themselves. In addition, today’s relationship foundation encompasses things like social justice and environmental responsibility.
Business consultants still speak of fostering business relationships as though it is something new and revolutionary. In reality, relationships have always defined business interactions. The only thing that has changed over the last 50 years is the foundation on which such relationships are built. Get the foundation right and your business relationships will follow.