The health of a company or organization’s stakeholder relationships says a lot about its overall health. When I took over as the CEO of Nevada Donor Network (NDN), it was one of the worst performing organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States. This was due in large part to their failure to maintain healthy relationships with their team members and community partners. NDN’s standing reputation among stakeholders was that of a dysfunctional organization that was unreliable and a nightmare to work with. Considering these reviews, it’s no surprise our relationships were suffering across the board.
I’ve been restoring and growing this organization for over a decade now. The process has taught me that the ability to create and nurture reciprocal relationships is one of the most impactful leadership skills one can have. Let’s look at some of the ways you can maintain healthy organizational connections that can be harnessed to benefit everyone at the table.
Find a few role models. The benefits of mentorship on an individual level are well known, and this same teacher-student relationship can work for organizations as well. Look at how the best-in-class of your industry maintain their relationships with stakeholders. By observing other organizations you want to emulate, you can gather insight to guide your efforts.
You should also take notes on any reciprocal connections that are currently thriving in your organization. What characteristics are present in those that are missing in some of your underserved or fraught relationships? How might those proven strengths be applied to improve other relational dynamics?
Be brutally honest about your performance. When it comes to managing relationships, your part in the dynamic (or the part contributed by your established organizational culture) is just as important as the contribution of any other parties involved. In fact, it’s far more significant than that of our counterparts because it’s what we have control over.
To achieve different results, we must employ different methods. Without a brutally honest view of what’s currently being done, there is no solid foundation from which future improvements can be made. Absolute honesty is key to understanding things as they actually are, rather than how we perceive them or would like them to be. Putting your organization’s shortcomings under a microscope isn’t meant to cause shame but rather to guide meaningful change.
Create relationships you would gravitate towards. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I challenge you to be the change you want to see in your relationships. If the dynamics between the organization and a particular stakeholder group are clearly suffering, ask yourself what you would want out of this if the roles were reversed.
Once you’ve reflected on how your role in the relationship can better fill the needs of the reciprocal party, back it up with action. It can be far more effective to show all involved parties how things will be different rather than simply to say that they will be. In addition, being the kind of organization you’d want to partner with helps to attract new collaborations and opportunities that might not have come to light otherwise.
Collaborate to find what works. My suggestions thus far have been very focused on what an organization can do to improve things on their end. While taking ownership of your contributions is critical, any consequent efforts still have the potential to come up short. The heart of sustainable relationships lies in all parties’ ability to be transparent enough with one another to critique and revise as the dynamic develops and shifts over time.
Always try to keep this in mind when navigating organizational relationships. Transparent communication combined with mutually respectful collaboration will take you further than attempting to resolve issues in a vacuum. While receiving feedback can be uncomfortable— being open, honest, and collaborative with stakeholders builds trust over time and results in sustainable partnerships where all invested can grow and succeed.