Which came first, the relationship (chicken) or the transaction (egg)?

Kevin Costner
Credit: ifc.com

Conventional business thought when you’re selling a product or service says build relationships based on mutually identified need and the rewards will follow. Call it the Business Field of Dreams Theory. Except instead of  Kevin Costner looking for his Dad in the corn stalks, Warren Buffett shows up with bags of cash.

Warren Buffett
Credit: DealBreaker

What happens now is the transaction ends up defining the relationship, not the other way around. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — think Facebook, Uber and Airbnb in an exponential marketplace. Balance between transactions at all costs vs. relationship represents a profound shift that helps explain resistance to change in most enterprise-level operating environments.  It’s hard to instill trust and confidence when you’re worried about how much you’re going to get paid, or vice versa, how much you’re not going to get paid or save in costs.

Consider the following example. New CEO Bob wants to improve the quality of his Corp.’s audit and financial controls, which he doesn’t believe are identifying enough cost. Early in his tenure, Bob turns to a known relationship, a major auditing firm that he used at a previous employer. There are no conflicts so CEO proceeds to advise his board that the company is going to change auditors. He presents the business case, or the often lost Why.

A paranoid board, which named Bob CEO a year ago, challenges the decision and makes a single request: Could we instead go back to our current auditor and ask them to improve their process first to see if key measurements could be improved? Too much change at one time might send the wrong signal since our financial performance is solid. Oh, and could the board’s Audit committee be fully apprised of what’s going on via daily dashboard updates? What began as a simple exercise has now turned into a lengthy review process chalk filled with bureaucracy.

Unfortunately enterprise businesses now have to deal with these types of dynamics and behaviors regularly largely due to fear-based risk vs. reward scenarios. Two percent+ growth economies featuring lower wage, part-time jobs make everyone an expert at efficiency improvement.

Not to over-simplify a solution, but…What if we could return to a simpler relationship-driven environment such as the ones built with great mechanics, barbers or hair stylists and yard maintenance pros who populate the linear, or hourly marketplace? Relationship and transaction are one, and the complexities and obstacles, while always present, take a back seat. Here’s an example:

Victor Aldana is a 30-something landscaping professional who has been working in Atlanta for the past 15 years. A native of Honduras, Victor lives with his wife and three children in Peachtree Corners, Ga. He and his four-man crew provide great service and a visible, finished product. They don’t just cut the lawn and leave; they edge, kill weeds, trim bushes and clean up after themselves, a novel idea in today’s world. See fuller description here: http://www.manta.com/c/mr4ych8/v-m-a-landscaping-service

I’ve known Victor for more than a year and have used and referred him regularly since he first started mowing my girl friend’s yard. Always pleasant, always professional and highly responsive (text and email even when he’s mowing) and above the standard norm. In addition to the yard, he’s taken on separate projects, such as clipping trees and our newest mutual endeavor, deck improvement.

With Victor and Co. in the mix, there’s no need to take on work outside my core competency, which does not include taking care of nearly an acre of land and repairing a deck in less than 365 days. He beats the heck out of the scared, lazy kids in the neighborhood — not to mention the entitled landscaping services that tell you they wouldn’t even consider stopping for less than $100.

The best part is you could call Victor at any time and he would at least try and help identify a solution if he couldn’t do it himself. How many of us can say the same thing?

This relationship transcends the transaction although admittedly he seems to enjoy getting paid in cash. As do I. But that’s another story.

Let’s resolve to quit making things so damn complex for complexity’s sake and do business the Victor Aldana way. If we can’t have more trust and confidence then let’s roll forward with more faith in the individual.

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