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Pi Of Life: Get Personal; Beyond Paperwork, Agreements & TOCs

HandshakeAt the recent, very popular edition of UnPluggd, Vishal Gondal emphasized the value of building relationships (see video), not merely being transactional with people. It’s a good philosophy, and even makes good business sense – at least in places such as India.

What does it mean? And how does it work?

I’ve been working in the ‘real world’ of brick and mortar where everything runs on the lubrication that relationships provide. They reduce the need for paperwork – at least immediately, they help create go-to people for more than the service they provide, and they make doing business more than cold transactional work. Of course there are downsides – a word not kept, assumptions, misreads and trust broken – but overall, there’s a lot of efficiency, flexibility, warmth and ancillary benefits to derive as well.

It’s an attitudinal shift – especially for those of us trained and steeped in the ways of a formal (read Western) workplace.

It assumes and recognizes people at the end of the transaction. Real people – with skills, capabilities, limitations, needs, issues, problems, good days and bad days at office, etc.

Obviously, there’s interpretation to start with. Of intent, priority, paying capacity, and a whole lot. Of course it’s fuzzy. But oftentimes, given multiple dealings with multiple folks, it’s a way of automagically prioritizing the most important, as determined by the service provider. It can mean your task, meeting or ‘committment’ gets deprioritized, but honestly, I’ve rarely seen a critical priority – a wedding muhurat, a flight or train to catch, a truly critical job to be wrapped up as the business’ clients come in to expect it – be disrespected once known and raised explicitly.

There’s empathy. So given a genuine reason for a payment delayed, or a request for advancing a date for a critical need, or overlooking a minor flaw which doesn’t truly matter are commonplace. You can certainly look at these as “not adhering to agreed upon terms” but the relationship based deals look beyond the current transaction – and see how it works for both parties over a period of time. Judgment is not passed for one event. Everyone gets a break, given a good reason.

It’s also more efficient at times. I’ve had regular vendors go out of their way to drop off stuff with no payments made, merely because we mentioned we were a little caught up and this was an urgent one off requirement. The transaction and paperwork followed later – the work got done first! Trust rules, helps people get on with their work. And trust works only when relationships are built and maintained over time. Relationship building also creates referrers, brand ambassadors, emergency financiers, backup inventory providers and many such without the necessity for onerous formal and legal structures to enable these.

Relationships also keep us reminded of what the entire economic dance is about – real people. You automatically care more about fairness and win-wins, and those who don’t get called out and sidelined pretty soon – because exploitative relationships do not last.

There was recently a lovely anecdote shared on Facebook about a sales guy, who did not miss a beat on hearing about the loss of a deal from an old customer, and continued to discuss the customer’s long term plans, strategy and prospects. Very little builds trust like “I’m here for you when the need arises” does!

So whether or not you are in sales where relationship building is an explicit need. Beyond the paperwork, agreements and terms and conditions, its relationships that often are the backbone of any business.

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