If you can read that warning in your outside car mirror, you're not paying nearly enough attention to the core issue, driving without committing either suicide or manslaughter. But it is disastrously easy to become mesmerized by mentally Photoshopped images and contemplate the magnificence of a false—sometimes referred to as "enhanced"—image.
Business relationships are a little like that, too, in that what we think we see may not be a wholly accurate depiction of reality. And in the new age of collaboration, successful supply chain management demands robust, rock-solid, and really long-term relationships.
Those are not the last century's 3Rs of elementary education, but the new century's hallmarks of effective hand-in-glove, arm-in-arm, joined-at-the-hip planning, operations, and continuous improvement that make for happy customers, employees, and shareholders.
But even some really smart people don't get the essentials of how to build and maintain those intimate relationships that transcend mere opportunistic cooperation.PSEUDO-SCIENCE AND THE STUDY OF RELATIONSHIPS
Some observation and writing in the field appears to have missed the lifeboat and is going down with the Titanic. A common failing among the sinking cynics is to examine a business relationship as if it were a fire. It gets lit; it catches; it roars to life; it stays hot for a period; it begins to fade; and it finally dies out, pretty much useless in the end stages even though technically still alive. Their typical scenario is to outline the stages of a relationship, which got me to immediately contemplating Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's stages of death and dying:
All those are essentially so, if one imagines the parallel of a fire that is lit and left to follow its own course. Many fires on beaches at sundown that fuel summer romances do, in fact, play out in about that way. But for those who are serious about fires—or relationships—it's a much different story. Remember the under-appreciated film "Quest For Fire," with Rae Dawn Chong? Fire was a wonder and a life-giving tool for early humankind, kept perpetually burning. One village let its fire go out and dispatched a team to venture forth to find new fire, without which the village would fail and disappear.GOOD FIRE; GOOD RELATIONSHIPS
The stages outlined above make no sense in a world in which either fire or relationships are vital survival elements, and the inevitability of winding down relationships in that context is absurd. To stay with fire for a moment, if one is serious about a life-giving fire, it is observed, evaluated, and tended accordingly throughput its life.
Good tinder is used to enhance a good start. The best wood to be found is laid on the fire, and new fuel is added throughout its life—not too early and not too late. The placement of the original and the additional logs is carefully thought through. If a spot is not burning well, judicious application of air is used to help the flame sustainably engage that particular log.
In business relationships, increasingly in supply chain business relationships, good fires are being built with the objective of not inevitably winding down. We look hard within ourselves to find the right mix and match of team components to provide the tinder for a great Stage I, Establishment. We invest in bringing genuine talent to the table, with the right styles to match up with the other side and create a fast and positive Stage II, Acceptance.
We hire deliberately with values that support and enhance trust, and plan meticulously and creatively, to make Stage III, Action, effective in time, resources, and outcomes. Throughout, we assess the health of the relationship, the strength of the fire, and add as appropriate, new wood and/or blasts of air to make the fire and the relationship both strong and longer lasting. The objective, of course, is to not ever have to face the Stage IV Wind-Down. And constant care and feeding of the fire and the players in the relationship can be marvelously effective in delaying, deferring, or demolishing Wind-Down as a daily concern.THE REALITY
Do relationships end? Sure. But not always, not early, not without a fight, and not inevitably. Does everybody get, and buy into, the perpetual relationship idea? Of course not. But the naysayers' numbers are shrinking as long-standing relationships continue to stand.
Is relationship management easy once you know how? No! It is hard work, takes incredible attention to detail, and eats resources for breakfast. But it is easier—and less costly—than losing a relationship partner and working like a rented mule to find a new one. Is it a matter of charm and personality? Not really, although a sunny disposition doesn't hurt. At the end of the day, trust is vital, competency is key, and a willingness to laugh is icing on the cupcake. Plus, a willingness to go out and put a log on the fire yourself can go a long way.