Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships: How to Become More Productive, Effective and Influential


What's your most valuable corporate asset?


?Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships goes beyond the usual bonhomie, grip-and-grin, back slapping . . . dimension of business relationships. This book outlines a fresh, more systematic perspective to an area usually thought of as the ?soft? side of business.?
?From the Foreword by Bradley J. Mitchell, ...

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What's your most valuable corporate asset?


Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships goes beyond the usual bonhomie, grip-and-grin, back slapping . . . dimension of business relationships. This book outlines a fresh, more systematic perspective to an area usually thought of as the ‘soft’ side of business.”
—From the Foreword by Bradley J. Mitchell, former Chief Commercial Officer, AccuWeather

Whatever business you’re in, success often depends on relationships—whether the relationship is between two team members, among several divisions of a corporation, or when it spans a large network of suppliers and customers. For almost three decades Sallie Sherman, Joseph Sperry and, more recently, Steve Vucelich have been helping companies increase revenues, reduce costs, and lower risk by helping firms optimize their B2B relationships.

Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships is a game-changing guide that will help you leverage every critical relationship in your organization for greater success. The authors combine their knowledge and experience to show you how to get maximum value from virtually every relationship—both internal and external.

You’ll learn how to spot those relationships that are not generating their full power—and turn them into drivers of profit and growth. You’ll discover new ways to eliminate barriers to performance and boost the energy of individuals, teams, groups, and your organization as a whole. And you’ll find out how to improve personal and managerial development by using Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships:

  • Key #1: Connect first, then focus on task
  • Key #2: Learn by walking in another’s shoes
  • Key #3: Whether people trust you is often up to you
  • Key #4: Share information to increase your personal power
  • Key #5: Manage yourself before you manage others

The authors present proven best practices that individuals and firms can use to form more empowering relationships. They show you how to identify and remove barriers to relationships in your company, whether they are caused by culture, infrastructure, or self-awareness gaps.

If you want to be more productive, effective, and influential, you have to begin thinking in terms of relationships. Globalization, quality movements, increasing numbers of M&A and strategic partnerships, and the rise of social media have made relationships the new business imperative.

Your company’s most valuable asset may be dormant. Learn how to tap into it and extract its maximum value with Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071783880
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/19/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 949,453
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sallie J. Sherman, Joseph P. Sperry, and Steve Vucelich, are CEO, former partner, and vice president at S4 Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that works with Fortune 500 firms.

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Read an Excerpt


How to Become More Productive, Effective, and Influential


McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2014 Sallie J. Sherman, Joseph P. Sperry, and Steve Vucelich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-178388-0


Introduction and Overview of the Five Keys

Wondering what you need to do to be more productive, effective and influential? Wondering why you are a hard worker and have good technical skills but are not being appreciated? The five keys can open some new doors for you.

Why This Book?

This book is meant to encourage and guide businesspeople who want to become more productive, effective, and influential. We know how powerful it can be to transform critical business relationships. For almost three decades, we've helped business leaders and their companies develop and nurture powerful relationships that, in turn, have enabled them, their people, and their businesses to grow and thrive. Over the years we have found again and again that the fastest-growing businesses focus not simply on strategic planning or dollars. They also systematically focus on unleashing the power of their business relationships—between individuals; among teams and divisions; and with suppliers, customers, and strategic partners.

In our early days of working together, we sought to understand what businesses could do to have the greatest impact on economic value. Our work in product and service quality and their impact on customer satisfaction kept taking us back to the importance of relationships—and their value as corporate assets. At one time there was not much interest in or appetite for unleashing the power of business relationships. Because advertising was seen as the solution to most customer-acquisition challenges, the mantra was, "If you build a product, they [customers] will come." This certainly worked for a while, but the increasingly global economy, quality movement, rapid increase in mergers/acquisitions, quickly evolving technology, and outsourcing soon changed the heavy reliance on advertising. Paradoxically, in an increasingly high-tech world, the need for and importance of strong business relationships has increased dramatically. Today, in an era of greater collaboration and strategic partnerships, business leaders are spending countless hours and resources trying to maximize their human capital and strategic business relationships. We've come a long way.

Along this journey, we've worked with a great many businesspeople, some of them very technically competent businesspeople, who have been frustrated by their lack of recognition and/or promotions. They asked, "If I have good technical skills and do great work, why am I not getting ahead? Why are those whom I perceive as less competent passing me by? Why am I stuck?" This book was written to answer those questions and others.

For too long we've watched these businesspeople struggle with their lack of personal power and inability to develop and nurture strong, healthy business relationships. We have been saddened by their struggle. It doesn't have to be that hard. By understanding the practices that relationship masters use, you can experiment with these approaches and see which work best for you. Of one thing we're sure: There is no one "right way" to develop relationships. Some things generally work better than others, but we have seen things that we never thought would work, work powerfully. In the late 1980s, when we were helping with the divestiture of the Bell Systems and the emergence of AT&T, we got to see firsthand what happened when relationships were broken, restored, or recreated. Anyone who worked in the phone companies through that era knows what we mean. Working with very technical and world-renowned areas of the company, we got to see firsthand how helping scientists more effectively relate with their colleagues and customers increased their effectiveness and personal power. Some technical experts acknowledged that they were not particularly effective in person-to-person interactions and that it had never occurred to them that there might be practices they could use to be more successful in those situations. They also admitted that they never realized that their lack of relationship skills—skills they saw as "soft," inauthentic, or unnecessary—might be holding them back in their careers or keeping them from the recognition they so richly deserved.

Over the next three decades, we found ourselves working with hundreds of companies, from information technology (IT) firms to highly regulated companies in energy, gas, transportation, pharmaceuticals, and financial services. In each of these, we have worked with people at all levels and in all functions to develop or transform their business relationships so as to help them and their companies grow and thrive. Along the way, we have been asked to write up our approaches so that others in the firms could develop their skills. This was our primary impetus for writing Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships.

In our successful first book, The Seven Keys to Managing Strategic Accounts (McGraw-Hill, 2003), we focused more on large business-to-business relationships. We presented business cases to demonstrate how suppliers using a relationship-management strategy, paired with appropriate infrastructure and organizational alignment, can achieve extraordinary bottom-line results. In Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships we will be showing how to unleash the power in both the internal and external relationships that drive performance.

What This Book Is Not

This book is not

* Twenty-five easy tips to better business relationships in 25 days

* The Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships

* A textbook nor a treatise studying hundreds of companies

As we said, this book is not "twenty-five easy tips for better business relationships in 25 days." Sorry, that's just not us. Relationships are too complicated and interwoven. Think of a Rubik's Cube. All the small blocks are connected to all the other small blocks. Move one cube column and things can change dramatically. There are over 40,000 possible ways to move the individual pieces, and we know that in attempting to solve one of these cubes, we've tried at least 36,000 moves. It takes patience and practice to solve the cube. There are similar complexities to relationships. An approach, for example, used successfully with one relationship may not necessarily work with another person in the same situation. To even think that relationships could be handled with "easy tips" does not recognize their inherent complexity. Instead of tips, we will be sharing with you practices of successful businesspeople—primarily executives—whom we and others have identified as very effective relationship builders and developers.

The book is also not The Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships. We have selected practices we know are successful in developing and maintaining effective relationships. We would be the last to suggest that these are somehow comprehensive choices. All these keys are interconnected, though, and can be enormously effective when used together.

Finally, this book is neither a textbook nor a treatise studying hundreds of companies. We cite some of those studies, but our interest here is not academic; we wrote this book to help you learn from and experiment with successful practices we and others have identified so that you too can create more powerful relationships to grow and thrive. We've written this book to help you along your relationship-development journey.

Lessons from People Nominated as Relationship Masters

When we decided to write this book, we asked a number of colleagues and clients to nominate people they knew who were master relationship builders. A gratifying number of those nominated agreed to be interviewed so that we could share some of the practices that have made them so successful.

There are also many with whom we have worked who are masterful relationship builders who are not specifically named in this book. For that we apologize. Please keep doing what you're doing and know that we're still your biggest fans.

An Overview of the Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships

We are all long-time business readers. We know that few businesspeople read straight through a book. Instead, they look for the chapters they think apply to them most directly and start there. The five keys, though, are closely interrelated and affect one another. Each relationship key can, and will, help you to build powerful business relationships on its own. To help you decide where to begin, here is an overview:

Why Care about Powerful Business Relationships?

Key #1: Connect First; Then Focus on Task

Key #2: Learn by Walking in Another's Shoes

Key #3: Whether People Trust You Is Often up to You

Key #4: Share Information to Increase Your Personal Power

Key #5: Manage Yourself before You Manage Others

A Review of the Five Keys

Virtual Relationships and the Five Keys

For Leaders: Three Relationship Challenges

Why Care about Powerful Business Relationships?

This chapter lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. Before you invest in developing powerful business relationships or encouraging others to do so, you need to fully understand why doing so makes business sense. We talk about why you should care and what we mean when we think about business relationships, and we use Southwest Airlines as an example of a firm that values and receives value from what it calls "relational competence." We then present five successful practices that we have seen used by the best relationship managers we know, and we define and link relationship power, personal energy, and firm productivity. The book's overall goal is to help you, as a businessperson, to see and develop the power of relationships.

We believe that almost any business can strengthen critical relationships inside and outside the firm. The process starts, though, with people understanding the power of relationships.

Key #1: Connect First; Then Focus on Task

When we feel stuck, when a deadline is pressing, when the problem seems insurmountable, our initial tendency is often to focus even more strongly on the task that is troubling us. The secret to solving the insurmountable problem, though, may lie in taking time to ensure that relationship issues aren't really what are keeping us stuck.

In Key #1 we will be speaking about how to unstick people in problem-solving team meetings where everyone initially wants to focus entirely on task. Such a task focus too often results in less than optimal solutions.

Key #2: Learn by Walking in Another's Shoes

Effective communicators often have high levels of empathy and, in our experience, tend to spend more time listening than speaking. We know a technical company that developed a new, very expensive product that had tested very well in research and development (R&D). The problem was that the product had been designed more for technical elegance than for customer usage. The product, for example, had some portability but needed a great deal more if it was going to be adopted by many health-care customers. The designers had lacked a clear sense of the customers' expectations, how the product would be used, and how often and where it was going to be moved. In this case, these questions had to be asked after the product had come out, and unfortunately, retooling products is usually much more expensive than getting them right the first time.

In Key #2 we'll talk about examples of business issues that hinge on certain kinds of empathy—knowing someone's expectations, needs, and wishes—and the impact this can make on business results.

Key #3: Whether People Trust you Is Often up to you

Trust is a concept that appears simple but is actually made up of many dimensions and contexts. Among other things, it involves the intentions of the person to be trusted, his or her actions, and how closely aligned are his or her words and actions. Throw in the fact that some people are inherently trusting and others inherently distrustful and you have enough variables to make trust a concept as slippery as a freshly caught fish.

Because trust can be one of the major causes of relationship problems, Key #3 focuses on some of its dimensions, allowing managers to see what may be missing in their own sense of trust, how long it takes them to develop trust, and the practices they can use to develop that trust.

Key #4: Share Information to Increase your Personal Power

In an older business model, people tended to see knowledge as power; the more they hoarded information, the more powerful they were. Department managers were sometimes less than forthcoming to other functional areas. In newer business models, such a notion is turned on its head. In many cases, sharing knowledge and building relationships now make you more powerful. By letting people know what you know, you give them options to create better decisions, tactics, and strategies. Sharing information, in our experience, is one of the keys to creating innovative solutions and increasing your personal power.

In one heavily engineering-based company, people hoarded knowledge, except for one executive. This executive proactively shared information and freely answered questions. Colleagues eagerly sought his advice and guidance. In turn, this sharing empowered the executive's team, and the more powerful they became, the better their results were.

Key #5: Manage yourself before you Manage Others

We tend to see ourselves as rational people, but there are parts of us that are irrational. We have fears, dreams, and hopes that can keep us from being our most successful. How many great ideas stay buried because employees are afraid to look foolish in front of their peers or their bosses? Only recently have brain scientists helped us to understand the function of the amygdala, the part of the brain that continually scans our environment for perceived danger and works to keep us safe. How does this brain area link to building relationships? When we are under stress, our amygdala can send messages so loud and demanding that it causes us to listen more to our own fears than to the other people with whom we are working, perhaps undermining our relationships and effectiveness.

Key #5 looks at self-knowledge—perhaps the most critical kind of knowledge—as a foundation to your managerial and personal effectiveness. Without self-knowledge, our business efforts may be for naught. Without self-knowledge, we may be blind and ineffective because we may be unaware of our impact on others. Better understanding of ourselves allows us to be better listeners, problem solvers, colleagues, and customers (and lovers). It enables us to communicate more clearly and more effectively. It allows us to influence without authority, unleashing our personal power.

A Review of the Five Keys

This chapter will summarize our five keys, provide some checklists for developing and maintaining those practices, and present the sources we have found invaluable in learning about relationship competence. The goal is to help people to take the next step in more effectively managing themselves and their critical business relationships. Building powerful business relationships is a challenging yet fulfilling journey. Our role is to help make that journey easier.

Virtual Relationships and the Five Keys

We felt that we needed to explore virtual relationships because the vast majority of businesspeople have them, and there are some specific challenges to connections through communications platforms. A great many people assume that if a message is clear to them, it will be clear to other people. In our experience, this assumption is often incorrect. Thus, if the recipient receives the message and it is a note that is hard to read or, heaven forbid, perceived as being sarcastic, there can easily be hell to pay. We speak from painful experience.

For Leaders: Three Relationship Challenges

In this final chapter we examine three particular challenges a leader faces: (1) the challenges of staying true to yourself—maintaining authenticity; (2) the challenge of managing multiple relationships—why you probably should not have 26,000 people in your contact list; and (3) the challenge of installing a culture that promotes healthy empowering relationships. We've heard from a number of businesspeople who have faced all three challenges—and overcame them.


Excerpted from FIVE KEYS TO POWERFUL BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS by SALLIE J. SHERMAN, JOSEPH P. SPERRY, STEVE VUCELICH. Copyright © 2014 Sallie J. Sherman, Joseph P. Sperry, and Steve Vucelich. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Foreword, v,
Acknowledgments, vii,
Part 1, 1,
Introduction and Overview of the Five Keys, 3,
Part 2, 13,
Why Care about Powerful Business Relationships?, 15,
Key #1: Connect First; Then Focus on Task, 47,
Key #2: Learn by Walking in Another's Shoes, 67,
Key #3: Whether People Trust You Is Often up to You, 95,
Key #4: Share Information to Increase Your Personal Power, 121,
Key #5: Manage Yourself Before You Manage Others, 139,
A Review of the Five Keys, 153,
Part 3, 167,
Virtual Relationships and the Five Keys, 169,
For Leaders: Three Relationship Challenges, 191,
Annotated Bibliography, 209,
Bibliography, 213,
Notes, 216,
Index, 225,

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