The idea of engaging employees is not new. In fact, some might say that the concept is becoming fashionable. While that internal focus is still useful, there is another opportunity for fresh input and ideas that are all too frequently overlooked—the outside-in view of your vendor and supplier stakeholders.
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For small businesses in particular, relationships with external vendors, suppliers and contractors carry vested and often objective insights into your business. The challenge for small business owners is to effectively connect with, engage and nurture relationships with external eyes and ears that not only provide operational support, but can help to fuel innovation and growth.
The good news: this kind of co-creating new ideas and performance enhancement is probably most achievable with small businesses…people like you who understand your scale and are open to a kinship around business. When they know you, your staff, your family, your values, connections develop that can be difficult to break.
Consider the current relationships you have with individuals external to your organization. How strong are those relationships? Do you actively take steps to reach out to these people for input and insights? Do you value their perspectives and opinions? Nurturing business relationships is really no different than nurturing personal relationships. We all want to be sought after, listened to and valued...
Your challenge is to consider ways in which you can garner the wisdom from people with strengths or perspectives unlike your own. The first step—humility—recognizing that you do not have all of the answers, know everything there is to know about your business or the many elements that impact your success or even have the ability to accurately assess how others view your company, its products, services or staff. But you can gain this wisdom—through inclusion.
By developing a strong linkage to individuals who support your mission and reflect your values, even though you may only call upon them when you need specific support (advice from an attorney, an opinion from a tax expert, web site design, etc.). These are individuals whose knowledge base vary from yours and benefits from interactions with other businesses; that knowledge and those diverse perspectives are often a catalyst for success.
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So, once you agree that there is much to learn and gain from others, what are the next steps?
§ Stop and consider how well you’re doing nurturing those relationships.
§ Identify business partners whose input and advice will add value to your enterprise.
§ Be open to sharing your culture and values with outside vendors and suppliers.
§ Find face-to-face time when you can.
§ Don’t over-rely on email or text-based communications. The key to forming real relationships, as Ed Keller and Brad Fay so clearly outline in The Face-to-Face Book, requires personal interactions. As they say: “real relationships rule in a digital marketplace.”