Books in Brief: The Relationship Edge in Business

By Leigh Rivenbark Aug 1, 2004

HR Magazine, August 2004

The Relationship Edge in Business
By Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, 237 pages
List price: $24.95, ISBN: 0-471-47712-5

Listen. Be courteous. Be honest. Ask people about themselves because everyone loves to talk about that topic. These and other tips in The Relationship Edge in Business may seem “squishy and obvious,” author Jerry Acuff readily admits. But Acuff says his book aims to make readers conscious of something they already do unconsciously—forming and deepening relationships. Acuff breaks down relationship-building into steps you can practice.

There’s a business advantage to “consciously, systematically and routinely” building relationships with managers, customers, co-workers and others, says Acuff, president of Scottsdale, Ariz., consulting firm Delta Point-The Sales Agency. In a strong relationship, you can sell yourself, your ideas or your product better, as one salesman of packaging products found out.

He dropped in every month just to visit with an appliance repair shop owner who didn’t have any real business for him but who bought tiny amounts of packaging occasionally. One day, the shop owner took the salesman on a mysterious drive—to the site of a major appliance firm’s new headquarters. The shop owner told everyone there how great the salesman was and asked them to throw their packaging business to him. A casual relationship paid off in business terms, with the salesman selling literally a truckload of packaging goods to the headquarters every week.

Acuff relates many such anecdotes while emphasizing that you should build relationships because you take a genuine interest in people, not solely because you seek a specific business gain.

Identify the people with whom you want to have relationships and learn about them, Acuff says, offering several ways to crack open a person’s reserve. He lists 20 questions for getting conversations going (from “Where is your favorite place to vacation?” to “What is the most frustrating thing about being in your business these days?”). For those who don’t want to remember a list of questions, he suggests using the acronym FORM—family, occupation, recreation and motivation—as a way to recall conversational topics.

Actions help cement relationships, and those actions can be small, inexpensive ones, Acuff says. Use your knowledge about a person to be truly thoughtful, by sending a newspaper clipping about a topic you know they are interested in, or remembering a special date like a birthday with a cake you deliver yourself. He outlines how to identify, record and acknowledge people’s special dates.

Acuff concludes with ideas for maintaining relationships, including developing a plan for making routine contact.

The HR Answer Book

By Shawn Smith and Rebecca Mazin, AMACOM, 2004, 244 pages
List price: $24.95, ISBN: 0-8144-7223-0

Written in a question-and-answer format and designed both for reference and deeper reading, The HR Answer Book is a handbook for both HR professionals and general managers on topics ranging from recruitment to compensation to firing.

Brief outlines of employers’ legal responsibilities, tips on ensuring good employee communications and a basic template for starting a performance management system are examples of the nuts-and-bolts HR information found here.

Authors Shawn Smith, founder of Next Level Consulting LLC in Harrison, N.Y., and Rebecca Mazin, co-founder of HR consulting firm Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y., say their book is particularly suited to small and mid-size organizations with small—or no— HR staffs. Smith and Mazin lay out their topics from employment’s start to finish:

  • Employee selection. This section helps determine what a position is and what its pay should be, gives tips on using job ads and employee referral programs, outlines how to conduct job interviews—including what questions to avoid to stay out of legal trouble—and explains when to use pre-employment screening tests.
  • Performance management. Learn how to develop a basic performance management system, definitions of coaching and mentoring, what to do when faced with poor performance, formats for employee reviews and tips on conducting face-to-face reviews.
  • Training and development. Set up orientation and training for new employees, determine what training to offer other employees, and learn how to get employees to attend training and how to evaluate training’s effectiveness.
  • Employee relationships and retention. This section describes employee communications and mistakes individual managers make in communicating; discusses how to structure reward and recognition programs; describes flextime, telecommuting and job-sharing programs; and outlines basic conflict-resolution skills.
  • Compensation and benefits. Two chapters discuss overtime laws and calculations, setting up pay grades and bonus programs, legally required benefits such as Social Security and workers’ compensation, health plan choices, leave plans, and retirement plans.
  • Employment laws. The authors summarize antidiscrimination and antiharassment laws and discuss employer liability. This section also covers reasonable accommodation for disabled employees, occupational safety and health responsibilities, and immigration issues.
  • Volatile workplace issues. Learn how to handle workplace violence, substance abuse and Internet usage issues. Employer rights and responsibilities, guidelines on deciding whether computer or phone monitoring is justified, and tips on how to investigate employees are included.
  • Termination. The book outlines how to document and conduct a firing, procedures for having employees clean out their desks and depart, and compensation and benefits for fired employees.

The book includes a resource guide with contact information for everything from pre-employment testing to training groups to benefits experts. One chapter provides sample performance management and self-evaluation forms.

TLC at Work
By Donna Dunning, Davies-Black Publishing, 2004, 290 pages
List price: $22.95, ISBN: 0-89106-192-4

Aimed at trainers, leaders, coaches and HR professionals, TLC at Work draws on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment tool to link personality characteristics to the competencies required in the workplace. Donna Dunning, an author and consultant, says readers don’t have to go through the full MBTI process—which must be administered by someone trained in the technique—to use her ideas about creating development plans for employees.

“TLC” here means “training, leading, coaching” all personality types. The first half of the book focuses on the reader as a professional trying to help employees or clients develop. To be effective, professionals must build relationships and facilitate development, Dunning writes.

Building relationships starts with ethics, confidentiality and the gray area of self-expression: How much should the professional who is leading development reveal about himself to the employee?

Dunning next summarizes the MBTI types and discusses adjusting your “interventions” with employees according to their personalities while being aware of how your own personality type affects your perspective about the people you help develop.

Facilitating development includes a “practical planning strategy” that offers a sample development plan. Other tools include questions to ask about the employee’s development needs and performance issues. Dunning outlines how to identify developmental roadblocks, such as the employee’s lack of time to correct mistakes or failure to recognize mistakes.

The book’s second half shifts the focus from the professional in charge of development to the employee or client. Dunning looks at five core competencies she says all workers need: self-responsibility, communication, mindfulness, productivity and proactivity.

For each competency, the book discusses how different personality types are likely to handle things. For example, a “responder’s” productivity might hinge on whether the person finds the tasks appealing; a responder works in the moment and might need help setting priorities. In contrast, an “expediter” is good at getting tasks accomplished and is decisive and organized, but might end up organizing everyone else if they don’t fit with his or her style of getting things done. The expediter might need help understanding others’ work styles.

Dunning provides detailed check lists throughout the book so readers can check their own or their client employees’ progress.

Who Stole My Customer?
By Harvey Thompson, Prentice Hall, 2004, 210 pages
List price: $24.95, ISBN: 0-13-145356-4

Customers like your product, but when your service manager left for another firm, customers went with him. So much for customer loyalty, right? Well, your customers were indeed loyal—not so much to your product as to the service manager. Their personal interactions with him were “touchpoints” for your customers. Maybe if your touchpoints were consistently good throughout your company, the customers would stay.

The value of those touchpoints is a key element in getting and keeping customers, former IBM executive Harvey Thompson explains in Who Stole My Customer? Thompson presents a four-part strategy for building customer loyalty, and he opens with a salvo aimed at corporate complacency. Too many firms operate “inside-out,” as he puts it. They focus on their own viewpoint while ignoring customer viewpoints. Thompson advocates an “outside-in” approach in which customers actually drive and develop the company’s mission, strategies and planning.

Thompson’s strategy for creating loyalty covers:

  • Understanding “customer defection.” In the early 1990s, customers defected from IBM products and drove down the company’s stock prices from $110 to $37 per share. The problem? IBM’s longtime strength, its tendency to develop new products and push them out to a waiting market, had become its downfall as customers developed their own internal support staffs. The expert role that had built IBM was now damaging it because customers wanted what they knew they needed, not whatever IBM chose to sell.

    Thompson notes that many firms find, like IBM, that their old strengths are becoming weaknesses as customers and markets change. He outlines how, in the 2000s, customers expect ever-higher levels of service, making customer-centered business imperative.

  • Understanding loyalty. The features, benefits and price of a product drove loyalty for decades, Thompson says. But today, where product lines are relatively similar, companies attract customer loyalty for their service and personal interaction.

    This section helps readers define what loyalty means for their business, whether it’s repeat customers, a bigger share of the customer’s dollars spent or highly profitable customers who come back for more expensive services. Thompson also discusses identifying customer segments and their specific needs and wants.

  • Envisioning what customers need and institutionalizing loyalty. Thompson shows how companies can learn what customers need and, more important, why they need it; how having a knowledgeable contact person is important; how tailored, personalized products and services draw loyalty; and how companies can get employees and managers to buy into a customer-driven culture.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Leigh Rivenbark, is a freelance writer and editor based in Vienna, Va.


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