Your success as an owner, department head, or territory leader will depend on many variables that collectively need to be aligned. In all organizations, goal achievement will result from individual hard work, the effectiveness of the team, and the health of the relationships that are built as part of your strategy. Internal relationships are indeed mandatory, but the external relationships developed are a critical success factor that can greatly impact the height and timing of your success. External relationships are often not given the time and attention they should receive. This limits either the individual, or the organization as a whole, from achieving what otherwise would be in their grasp.
External relationships are those from the following list: vendors and suppliers; collaborators;
financial; strategic alliances; community; and finally, political. I've intentionally omitted two other external groups, clients and stakeholders, because they are each served and internalized through the existence of the corporate mission and business plan. Therefore, they really do not share similar attributes of the others on the list.
Why worry about your external relationships? Because they can influence your success to an equal or greater extent than other methods under your control. In addition to cost, your vendors may also control sales leads that can be provided to you at no cost. Your marketing plan may be exceptional, but it costs you money. Collaborators, those with whom you consult or depend upon for advice, can help you network with decision makers and other resource providers, who can assist in early resolution of problems. The relationship you have with your financial advocate needs to be healthy to weather economic downturns. Joint ventures or strategic alliances with a quality partner can enable you to win business that you would have otherwise lost or not qualified to compete for. Having a strong sense of community involvement and support, especially philanthropically, will help you attract talent and support the economic health of your business area.
In the financial crash of 2008, my company created an alternative strategy to downsizing with the economy. In lieu of layoffs, we re-deployed our technical resources and allocated them for a job re-training project aimed at the unemployed in the communities we served. We developed very strong relationships with our suppliers, state government, and local communities and launched a program we named "No Engineer Left Behind". We provided free training on 3D CAD to over 300 unemployed designers and engineers along with internships at our customers to many of them. As a result, we were rewarded with recognition and the satisfaction that the partnerships we established served many who needed a helping hand at the time. Without the partnerships, we could not have executed the program. The good will created from this program provided many benefits in the following years.
A 'partnering' philosophy should be created at the top of each organization and an effort made to help it become the culture of the company at all levels. In company meetings, I would always stress the importance of external relationships for most positions. Even at first line levels, the relationship with partners was considered a critical success factor and discussed at meetings. I could usually see differences in the success of those who paid attention to those relationships and those who did not. It took consistent encouragement and reminding of folks on my team, but was worth it. Our partners appreciated it and it elevated our success towards attainment of our business goals.
Stephen M. Dent published an excellent white paper on development of a partnership culture and how to do it. He outlines his structure for PRM, Partnership Relationship Management, in his white paper which you can find here. Understanding the attributes of successful external relationships and what the best practices are to maintain them can be gained from this article.
In conclusion, do not overlook the importance of developing a strategy to nurture and strengthen the external relationships in your business. It can leverage your results more than you think!