A changing landscape

Adopting a strategic approach to relationships

Over the past few years, in my work as an organizational psychologist and leadership coach, I have noticed the increasingly critical role that self-awareness plays in ensuring success as a leader in the global business landscape.

This has coincided with the rapid advances in information and communication technology, which have led to fast-paced, uncertain, and complex business environments, where change is now, more than ever, a normal part of organizational life. The pressure is on organizations to be more adaptable and flexible, with an increasing need for effective ‘teaming’, where people are working in flexible groups or teams with shifting membership, across different locations in order to address different challenges.

As a result, workplace relationships are becoming more complex. This means self-awareness and the ability to build strong, trust-based relationships are of huge commercial value in the shift towards more connected and collaborative organizational structures and culture.

Self-awareness is similarly important when you consider the trend towards more values-based leadership that has also been emerging over the last decade. The ability to build trust, demonstrate empathy and humility, and adopt active listening are now critical leadership skills to ensure future success.

Then Covid-19 threw the world a total curveball. A crisis that, at its heart, was about people. In response, organizations have had to ensure the wellbeing of their people is a priority: to focus on helping employees continue to feel connected to each other and the organization, and to feel supported and engaged as they try to deal with the psychological fall-out of being isolated and disconnected from colleagues. Across many organizations, this has led to a rise in mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression amongst employees.

The boundaries between work and home have also become blurred, with more sharing of personal situations with colleagues, whether that’s challenges with childcare, dealing with loss of family and friends from Covid or other health problems, and other aspects of their personal life. One Chief People Officer of an international hotel and resort chain told me that the first senior leadership team meeting they held during the first lockdown saw everybody introducing their pets to each other. Another HR Director told me how the MD of their company held a video call for all the employees where he told the story of his past mental health challenges. Sharing his story and showing his vulnerability had the wonderful impact of breaking down hierarchical barriers and creating the chance for employees to identify and connect with their MD. Holding on to what is lost through the absence of routine human conversation is vital alongside productivity and operations.

I have also heard from various clients and read about a number of uplifting examples of people reporting that the crisis has meant  they have worked more closely with certain colleagues, and connections between team members have been deepened and strengthened as a result.

The last 18 months has pushed organizations to adapt at speed in order to survive, with many people having to change the way they work, or having to quickly familiarize themselves with new technology, creating the potential for more uncertainty and anxiety.

This has all accelerated the shifting trend in leadership that we were already seeing towards a more collaborative, empathic leadership approach, as well as the need to establish strong, trust-based relationships as a foundation for effective innovation and agile working.

As a result, workplace relationships are now of crucial commercial value and strategic importance for organizations and leaders if they are to succeed in the post-Covid environment. This means that leaders need to think about relationships in a different way, acknowledging that relationships are fluid, constantly evolving and that the dynamics of each relationship are influenced by the context within which they exist and what each partner brings in terms of personality, values, motivations and expectations. Differences between individuals shape the nature of the relationship and, if these differences can be accommodated and worked with, establish the right conditions for creativity and collaboration to flourish.

So, you might be asking, what does a good relationship look like?

Drawing on recent consulting projects where we have worked with different clients to develop more trust-based, collaborative relationships both within teams and across supply chains, and findings from business literature and relationship theory, I have developed the Strategic Relationship Model (SRM). This is a relationship behaviour model that contains the four key elements of strong collaborative relationships:

  • Rapport (building trust and showing empathy);
  • Respect (working with difference and adopting a ‘we’ mindset);
  • Responsibility (being accountable and adopting a problem-solving approach to conflict);
  • Reflection (putting in place regular meetings to review the state of the relationship and agree any changes).

Each of the four elements contains a number of behavioural indicators that help clients to build and embed Rapport, Respect, Responsibility and Reflection into workplace relationships, which can be applied across different relationships and a range of contexts.

The benefit of the SRM is that it places the focus on behaviours, which are both observable and measurable and therefore more easily developed.

The SRM also provides a common framework and vocabulary for all relevant partners/stakeholders, making it easier to identify the strengths and possible gaps in existing relationships as well as helping clients move their relationships from a more narrow, transactional dynamic to a trust-based, collaborative dynamic.

The need for organizations and leaders to place people and relationships at the heart of organizational strategy further highlights the important role self-awareness plays in the current and future global business landscape.

One thing the Covid crisis has brought into sharp focus is that the need to connect is one of our most basic human needs. It has also shown the potential transformative power of human relationships. This is my passion and underpins my approach to work.

If this resonates with you, join one of our Clubhouse conversations every Friday at 12:30 BST or email me clare@dataclan.expert to find out how our work might work for you.

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