As a chief executive officer spending long hours guiding my company through growth and a challenging business environment, it’s good to set aside time either alone or with family to pursue a personal passion. In my case, that passion is fishing and sometimes it’s an opportunity to give thought to areas of life other than work, while other times it’s a chance to bring a new perspective to work subjects in the serenity of a tranquil environment. On a recent fishing outing, I took some time to reflect on the broad philosophy and more detailed elements that have helped drive my company to become one of the nation’s fastest growing full-service financial services companies.
Taken at a high-level, it can all be categorized under the theme of building relationships. At a bit more granular level, the idea of building relationships can be segmented into three key areas: Employees, customers and communities.
The cornerstone of any successful company is exceptional employees who understand the company vision, live it every day in the workplace, and reflect it in their personal lives whether discussing work with friends and family or giving time to good causes the company supports. This requires building meaningful, trusting relationships with employees from the start of their employment, establishing a clear vision for the company and proliferating it to staff in multiple ways throughout the year. This starts with the interview and on-boarding processes and should be delivered on a consistent basis as a core value.
Give consideration to adopting the following growth and relationship building strategy that many executives would deem unusual. Rather than basing our growth model on decisions about geographic regions, we focus on existing relationships with great people, because we know they will generate business, reflect well on our company, earn higher positions and lead others. Don’t pick a market first and end up with the fourth or fifth best person, rather pursue the best people so you will have top talent in all markets you enter.
Build relationships across industries and consider that the best people could very well come from outside your industry. While it may be enticing to go after candidates with years of experience in your field, there are two sides to the coin. These people often have pre-set, outmoded ways of doing things that could run counter to your culture and beliefs. It’s most important to identify those who are driven to be part of something bigger than their own self-interest.
Create positive policies, programs and ethics in the workplace to reinforce good relationships between management and all employees, and among employees. The founder of our company, Foundation Financial Group, Paul Scott, was raised with a blue collar work ethic that didn’t allow for excuses, and that philosophy is reflected in the culture of the company and is viewed as highly positive by employees. It rewards performance, placing all employees on equal footing and incentivizing excellence.
There are tremendous opportunities for creativity and innovation in developing policies and programs that solidify employee relationships. Our company created a university for professional development and growth from mid-management to the executive level.
There are many ways to build relationships with employees, making them feel vested in the company’s success such that they give maximum effort each day. Areas to consider include: Education/professional development, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability. The result of your employee-focused philosophy should be satisfied, motivated employees who earn good incomes, grow your business and tell the world that it’s a great place to work.
One of Jack Welch’s Six Rules for Successful Leadership is: “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” An essential element of building customer relationships and generating success is demonstrating a tangible competitive advantage that helps bond the customer to your product or service.
As simple and critical as Welch’s rule is, many companies do not have a well-defined competitive advantage, or if they do, it’s not well-communicated internally or externally, oftentimes rendering it less effective. If possible, identify your competitive advantage at the outset of the company, as it will help build stronger customer relationships from the outset and will be more easily internalized by initial and subsequent employees.
Companies that go into business to address a need in the market are more likely to organically create and internalize a competitive advantage. In our industry’s case, loan closing times were averaging 45 days and the market had a need for significantly lower closing times, which we reduced to less than 17 days.
Also be aware that focusing too exclusively on accepted industry practices in building relationships can be counter-productive. Those who rely too heavily on building relationships with real estate agents or others as a main source of business may forego more innovative and productive methods of business development. For example, today’s technology allows for much greater efficiencies in identifying and communicating directly with large groups of individuals or companies who are potential customers.
Tout your successes to the outside world through a public relations campaign. Issue news releases to the media, industry experts, existing customers and potential customers when you land new business, grow into new geographic regions, hire key staff members and reach major milestones. Make certain your presence on social media is properly updated and if you are not handling it yourself, make certain a responsible and diplomatically astute professional is in charge, as mistakes on the Internet often cannot be erased and can do lasting damage.
Take the temperature of your customer relationships from time to time, whether through surveys or other methods of keeping in touch that both remind them they are important to your business and provide opportunities to discuss their needs and your solutions.
Become integrated into the communities you serve based on the right reasons and not as a calculation of business success. Seek to build relationships with organizations and charitable groups that reflect causes of importance to you, or your colleagues/employees.
Take the pulse of your team to see what’s important to them and build a community relationship and charitable program around it. If you have multiple locations be aware of regional differences that could require a tailored program for each area. Don’t be afraid to ask employees to commit personal time for the cause, and include their families if they would like to, but show that you are equally interested in doing so. Lead by example. Consider serving on the board of a charitable organization and encourage the same from your others in your organization.
Each of our locations participates in at least one philanthropic event per quarter with staff members volunteering time and the company making a cash donation. However you decide to structure a program, show employees and the community that it’s an ongoing commitment and not a hit-and-miss proposition. Be nimble and ready to move quickly if a sudden need arises. This type of responsiveness often fills an important void when government agencies and other organizations take time to respond to emergencies.
Effectively combining employee, customer and community relationship-building into the fabric of your company is essential to growth and industry leadership. Observe and implement proven strategies in these areas, but be innovative in creating your own methods that work better or provide a new dimension.
Getting back to my mention of fishing, take time to pursue your personal passion as a way to diversify your life away from the office and encounter new environments. In addition to personal enjoyment, it could lead to great relationship building ideas for your business when you least expect it.
Mark W. Boyer is chief executive officer of Foundation Financial Group, which specializes in mortgage lending, property and casualty insurance, life insurance, retirement services, personal taxes and corporate tax services. He may be reached by phone at (866) 334-1001 or e-mail [email protected]