5 Tips to Develop True Working Relationships

By Jessica Kinghorn
Senior Manager, Forum Engagement, YPO

In a world where technology persists, and scores of online connections seem to mean success, personal connection is losing.

But people crave one-on-one engagement, and building business relationships with this need in mind can mean the difference between getting that sale, keeping that talented employee or gaining the loyalty of a valued partner, or not. In Geoff Colvin’s “Humans are underrated,” he suggests the most important skill in our economy is empathy, suggesting a shift from “knowledge workers” to “relationship workers.”

Here’s how an owner of a general contracting business built relationships with his subcontractors with great results – and five tips for applying his process to any business.

Mike Novakoski was dreaming of a way to make his company, Elzinga & Volkers Construction Professionals, stand out among the myriad of Michigan-based general construction companies. “It’s the best price or best relationship that wins deals,” says Novakoski, a member of YPO since 2007. He will be presenting at the YPO Business Powered by Forum event in San Diego, California, USA, 1-3 November 2017.

Taking a page from his YPO forum practice, Novakoski focused on building relationships. “Our subcontractors make or break our company,” he says. “So, we removed the off-putting term ‘subcontractors’ from our vocabulary, began calling them trade contractors and started treating them like true partners.”

That was just the beginning.

In 2013, Novakoski and his three top executives began three 10-person forum-style groups with their contractors – plumbers, electricians, painters, masons and more – to dispel the long-held assumption that subcontractors are less important than general contractors. “We have a lot to learn from each other,” Novakoski says.

The Thrive 365 Contractor Roundtables, built to strengthen bonds and relationships among contractors, meet every four to six weeks from September through May for 2-1/2 hours and discuss business struggles, trials and best practices in a confidential environment. The results were felt on the first day.

“With an ever changing market and economy, to be able to sit with likeminded business people it not only challenges me but it inspires all of us to do better,” says Jerry Cardinal, vice president of Highpoint Electric and roundtable member. “Shared information and ideas increases our ability and knowledge of this industry pushing us all further to the top of our competitors.”

Novakoski trade contractors also are noticing the benefits in the development of personal relationships they could not get in an industry-type meeting. The result of these relationships is timely problem solving and stronger businesses.

5 Tips for Developing Relationships With Your Most Important Clients and Vendors

  • Create cohesiveness by getting buy-in from the executive team. Novakoski trained his three executive team members to be able to host each of the three forum-like groups in case he was unable to attend.
  • Practice the same principles within your company as you do with outside contractors. Novakoski has been using forum practices with his executive committee for more than five years.
  • Set the groups up for success by bringing together manageable-sized groups; agree on ground rules. Novakoski grouped together trade contractors who had a lot in common – they dealt with the trials and challenges of day-to-day life as a subcontractor, creating instant connection. He also kept the groups to a manageable size, 10 people each. Everyone in the group signed a confidentiality agreement and the groups adopted a guiding principle policy. They use regular agendas and keep lists of topics to cover at future meetings.
  • Cultivate group ownership of the roundtables. While the original Contractors Roundtables began at Novakoski’s offices, they now rotate to various roundtable attendee offices to build ownership of the groups. The host has the choice to lead the session or ask another to lead in his place. The Roundtable’s Thrive 365 document includes a purpose statement, regular agenda and host responsibilities.
  • Try it. You do not know if you do not try. Novakoski was deliberate and committed to creating these groups and his positive energy translated in-kind. Consistency breeds commitment and trust. By making these regular meetings, and practicing openness and vulnerability outside the groups, Novakoski created an environment of accountability and honesty that has enveloped his contractor community.

Members, does this story interest you? Mike Novakoski will be presenting at the Business Powered by Forum event in San Diego, California, USA, 1-3 November 2017. Learn more and register

Every CEO needs somewhere to turn for the insight and perspective only trusted peers can provide. In YPO, the supreme sounding board is forum. Around the world in 3,800 forums, small groups of members – and small groups of their spouses and young adult children – meet in an atmosphere of confidentiality, respect and trust. Most members say forum is their most valued asset, because the maxim holds true: it can be lonely at the top, but it doesn't have to be. YPO members, spouses, management team and YPO certified forum facilitators (CFF) are contributors of the articles below. CFFs are a specialized group of 100 highly skilled professionals with a deep understanding of forum process and protocol. Each CFF has completed a rigorous application, interview and certification process that requires peer recommendations.