You’ve heard the old adage that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.  I wonder, during employment, how or what do people learn about how their company builds and values relationships? We teach new hires all about our company, products, services, maybe even competitive landscape and key market trends, yet seldom do we help employees understand how to build strategic relationships within as well as external to our company!  I’ve seen both formal and informal mentoring programs that are world-class in every aspect of their design, development and delivery, yet are missing this crucial component.

Is it because we assume new employees should already have learned this skill?  If they came from a Big Name organization, do we assume they learned these skills there?  Or do we not think it’s an important topic simply because a new hire is outgoing, or their specific job doesn’t require building relationships?

Guess what?  All three are flawed assumptions.  In our consulting work with public and private companies, large and small, we see employees of varying business stature reach a job or a career plateau, get bored and leave because they lack the willingness and ability to build strategic relationships – in their teams, departments, across the organization, as well as externally with key market influencers. 

As such, here are ten (10) best practices for helping new employees – at any level – get a running start in identifying, building and nurturing strategic relationships to drive performance and results:

Start the learning on day ONE!  The first item on the agenda should be a meeting with a respected executive who clearly helps them understand that personal and professional success will not be based on a product or a service, but upon the manner in which they develop lasting relationships.  Share three best practices and ask them about the relationships they want to develop during their time with the organization, vs. what they want to achieve.
Assign peer-level relationship mentors.  Assign new hires to a “relationship colleague” who literally walks them around and introduces them to key influencers, and who travels or works on the project with them, to provide credibility by association.  They need a peer to learn from, bounce ideas off, and relate to without the structural / authoritative pressures and the need to impress. 
Help them form “Relationship Advisory Boards.”  Particularly at a manager level, help them develop a group of subject matter experts and experienced peers, inside and outside the organization to act as an informal panel of relationship advisors. 
Institute and reward relationship coaching by managers.  New hires are often trying to figure out which end is up. Although as a person moves up in the organization the hand holding will decrease, ensure appropriate expectations and a reward system that encourages coaching and teaching the value of strategic relationships by the managers. 
Integrate relationship development into your management training.  How do managers learn how to build relationships? Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t provide this training to new managers (kiss of death by the way!).  First level managers are exactly at the right point in their careers for relationship development training, because they’re open to learning.  It’s ideal to develop a foundation of good habits and skills early. 
Raise the bar on HR’s strategic relationship value.  HR’s role doesn’t start or end with getting the candidate hired.  They need to continue to reach out to employees, introducing insights on the most valuable relationships within the organization.  Every new hire should think of HR as a go-to-resource and know when to call them for strategic relationship help. 
Provide a relationship coach.  Not every company or individuals can afford to hire an external coach.  But for a high performer who may be rough around the edges, a newly promoted manager or executive, or a valuable employee or team who works remotely, it’s an invaluable asset. 
Provide mandatory relationship compliance training.  Relationships go bad when there are misaligned expectations.  If you want to reduce your legal liability, help them understand how to more effectively set the right expectations, early and often! 
Develop a new hire relationship integration process.  In many organizations there are cliques, due to the tenured nature of the culture, or various acquisitions and people who come with it, or people who have followed a specific manager.  New hires often feel like outsiders, so conduct a new hire relationship integration process.  It’s a great way for a team to get to know a new teammate or manager, build early rapport, and establish mutual expectations.
Provide one relationship-centric book per month.  Did you know less than 5% of Americans read more than one business book a year?  Why not get a new employee off to a great start by providing them one relationship-centric book each month and ask them to present a summary at an informal “lunch & learn?”  Here are my top five recommendations:
 Relationship Economics by David Nour
What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
The Starfish and The Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
Six Degrees by Duncan J. Watts
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D.

Maybe, just maybe, we’d lose less incredible talent because they were able to build lasting, trusting, and candid relationships throughout the organization.

David Nour is a social networking strategist and one of the foremost thought leaders on the  quantifiable value of business relationships. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, David and his team are solving global client challenges with Strategic Relationship Planning™ and Enterprise Social Networking best practices.David is the author of Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger, 2009), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and the Social Networking Technology Best Practices Series. He is a contributor to The Social Media Bible (Wiley, 2009) and is currently researching and writing his next commercial book on Customer Economics .David’s unique perspective and independent insights have been featured in a variety of prominent blogs and print publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Association Now, Entrepreneur and Success magazine.
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