At Your Service: March 11, 2009

We of the human variety are made richer by our associations and grow in direct proportion to the scope of our relationships. Having many friends enables me to be many people without being schizophrenic; in each relationship different aspects of me are revealed and given permission to blossom. In the same way, businesses flourish by virtue of the company they keep.
One of my best friends is committed to resolving issues of social injustice and is an activist on an international scale; by virtue of her presence in my life, I am a world citizen. Another has his finger on the community’s social pulse; he gets me out of the house when cabin fever is about to set in. When I hunger for intellectual stimulation, I can count on the words of another to serve as a catalyst to deep thought. Others make me laugh, are support in times of need or provide wise counsel when I am about to do something stupid. Compassion, fun, reason, joy and a host of other experiences are given life through my relationships.
Competition serves a business in the same way that diverse relationships serve the individual. Our competitors bring in different product lines, which make us re-evaluate our own offerings and expand our inventory. They offer a different form of the same service, challenging us to be more creative. They call to our attention different customer needs, causing us to be more responsive. When they manage to offer better pricing, we are forced to be more efficient. Ultimately, we serve our customers most effectively when the competition is stiffest.
Even relationships I might characterize as negative or “bad” have a positive impact on my character. In interactions with people I would rather not talk to I confront the fact that I can be small, do things that are unkind or engage in inappropriate behavior. These encounters evoke and expand my capacity to be forgiving, tolerant and compassionate with both myself and others.
The customer who complains does us a great service by calling our attention to something that is not working within the business. Several product returns give us an indication that a particular item or supplier is failing to meet our expectations; or may simply explain why we got such a bargain on the purchase. Complaints may tell us that a particular employee needs more training or is not right for the job. Customer feedback enables us to reinforce our organization’s strengths and generate critical improvements to our operations.
My core relationships, with family and intimates, bring me home to myself. There stands the tree from which I fell; when life turns sour, I can see how far away I may have rolled from who I really am. Love bridges the gap between me and the person I envision myself being.
Businesses that flourish tend to remain true to the purpose for which they were created. It has been argued that if certain banks had maintained standard loan practices, there would have been no investing in bad mortgages and a significant part of the current crisis would have been avoided. There are more examples of businesses that have failed by growing too large, but there are also those who have risen to the challenge and succeeded. The key seems to be in the managing executive’s willingness to develop and maintain critical partnerships along the way.
Perhaps the most vital contribution of our relationships, whether personal or in business is that through them we can see different aspect of who/what we are and where we are going. We all need the perspective that can only be seen from the outside looking in – that’s what friends are for.