It’s counterintuitive, but in an age when we’re far more likely to be connected to our smartphones than to actual people, relationships — and the ability to nurture them — are more important than ever. At a recent conference, Keith Ferrazzi, best-selling author of “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back,” shared his perspective on building relationships. Ferrazzi has built a career around his mastery of the art of networking, and he says that any of the more than 5,000 individuals on his contact list would take his call. After hearing Ferrazzi talk, I have no reason to doubt his claim.
Ferrazzi’s message is something I believe we all understand intuitively: When we commit to building authentic relationships with the people in our lives, we simply become more successful. Recent studies conclude definitively that people with more “social capital” find better jobs more quickly, are more likely to be promoted, receive better performance evaluations and, according to MIT research, were 7 percent more productive than their colleagues. Not surprisingly, the top 1 percent of income earners rate highest on every measure of social capital.
But just because we understand this concept doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, most of us have preconceived notions about others that can prevent us from forming close relationships with them. And let’s face it, it’s simply more comfortable to stick with people we already know and understand. This prevents us from expanding our inside group and stands in the way of our success.
The most important plan
So how do we get out of the mindset that obstructs our path toward better relationships and more success? As Ferrazzi shared, Step 1 is building a people plan. We spend considerable time and resources developing financial plans, sales plans and project plans. But what about our people plans? Who are the five (or 25) people you can commit to building a personal relationship with? These people may be colleagues, business prospects or even casual friends. The important thing is that you identify these people and then, with purpose, begin to forge lasting bonds.
This is where the work becomes both challenging and immeasurably rewarding — because, to create more meaningful relationships, we need to open ourselves up to giving. Instead of approaching our interactions with others as exchanges where we either take all we can get, or at least come out even, we need to approach others with a spirit of generosity.
Rather than thinking about what those on your people plan can do for you, consider how you can make their lives that much better. As Ferrazzi says, “Find a way to help; find a way to care.” Maybe you connect a customer to a prospect they’ve wanted to meet. What about passing along an article that offers real solutions to their challenges? Or maybe you simply take the time to enjoy their company over a long coffee (or their beverage of choice). What’s important is that we invest in our people plan the same way we invest in our other plans: with purpose, focus and all the resources at our disposal.
Social media ties still bind
Remember those smartphones we’re all so attached to? The social connections enabled by these devices can’t be ignored. Social media communities enable us to stay connected to important people in our lives and to our businesses, even if we haven’t seen them face-to-face in years. These tools allow us to easily stay in touch with everybody in our people plans, regardless of their location. And this is particularly critical in a global business, where leads and referrals can come from anywhere in the world. Social media makes our “inside group” that much larger. And while it’s no substitute for that lingering conversation over dinner, these days it’s an indispensable part of how we ensure relationships stay strong.
Who has your back?
I’ve talked a lot about being generous with our relationships and investing heavily in helping the people we’ve identified as important in our lives. But there’s another side of the equation: We also need to learn to ask for help. Ensuring there are people in our lives who “have our backs” is a key predictor of success, and our people plans need to take this into account. Ferrazzi calls these important people lifelines, ambassadors and mentors. Whatever we call them, it’s clear we can’t be successful without them. As human beings, we instinctively want to help others. So asking for support is actually giving a gift to our supporters, providing them with the opportunity to make a difference.
So, as we prepare to end one year and embark on a new one, drawing up the many objectives, strategies and plans that will grow our business, let’s not lose sight of our people plan. Because rich, intimate and long-lasting relationships aren’t just the glue keeping our personal lives whole; our relationships also define how successful we can be at achieving our goals and helping others achieve theirs.