2017-09-18 Issue 15 Fundamental Behavior 14 – Invest In Relationships
Most relationships with our neighbors and friends evolve naturally with little effort by anyone, and as we get to know these people in our lives better, we decide (often subconsciously) how close a relationship we wish to have with them. In a working environment, however, things are a little more complicated. Working with others is different from having friends in our private lives. Outside of work, we are free to pursue relationships of our choosing. In business, for our work mission to proceed smoothly and efficiently, we have to cooperate with many people, including some who might not be on our Best Friend Forever list outside of work.
Let’s consider several different ways this Fundamental Behavior could have been worded instead of “Invest in relationships.” We could have said, “Relationships are important,” or “Work on your relationships,” or “Relationships matter,” all of which are true. We decided to use the word “Invest” because it suggests a much more thoughtful action on each person’s part. And similar to an investment we might make in a new piece of manufacturing equipment in order to improve quality and productivity, this Fundamental Behavior tells us that we have to invest proactively in our relationships in order for them to be meaningful and beneficial.
The bottom line is that we all need to be leaders when it comes to being cheerful, helpful, and dependable in our working environment. I think of it as being unconditionally friendly; that is, being friendly with no strings attached. It relates back to our first Fundamental Behavior, “Do the right thing, always.” Our work will go more smoothly if we are friendly. And keep in mind that friendliness is contagious, and so are smiles. If you set a friendly tone, I’m confident others around you will follow. And let me acknowledge that our investment in relationships is about more than being friendly and always smiling. It involves many other Fundamental Behaviors such as honoring our commitments, building trust, and clarifying expectations which also are part of the investment and require considerable effort.
These relationships apply to everyone in our business cycle, including customers, vendors, auditors, suppliers, bankers, government officials, etc. And part of the investment we make is to earn the other person’s respect by being firm, but fair, as we protect YKK’s interests at all time. As we conduct our daily business, we have to be conscious of the relationships that are constantly being formed by us, and if we’re wise enough, we will invest in making those relationships the very best they can be.
Here’s one good example of investing in relationships. When YCA’s new president, Jim Reed, joined YCA almost ten years ago as chief legal counsel, he analyzed the relationships his legal team had with all the operating companies and quickly made significant changes in the way they conducted their work. He began by reminding his team that YKK’s operating companies were the legal department’s customers, or at least that is the way he wanted his team to think about those important relationships. He insisted that his attorneys always travel to the “customer’s” locations rather than ask them to visit the YCA office. This practice was a time-consuming investment for the legal team, but it has paid huge dividends in building strong relationships based on mutual trust and respect.
I hope that this proactive approach to investing in relationships doesn’t sound disingenuous. Our “investments” must be made in a purposeful way, and with sincerity. Nobody likes or respects a phony person or someone with ulterior motives. In my opinion, there is nothing phony about taking the initiative to learn more about another person and to help that person succeed at her or his job at the same time we’re cooperating with one another to provide excellent products and service to all our customers.
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America