Work is Relationships

This is the first of a series of posts that supplements, but does not supplant, the regular posts about Hong Kong in general and Hong Kong politics in particular. It is all about work, not just how to survive it but how to enjoy it, to flourish and advance. It does not deal with broad management theory, although it touches on the nature of management. It will, however, cover some of the big work issues that arise in all organisations be they public, private, commercial, voluntary or governmental.

These posts will include strategy (so many organisations think they have one, so few do), the false god of ‘leadership’, how to navigate corporate culture, the significance of patronage, and why every organisation depends for its continuance on a measure of hypocrisy. But first, the critical role of relationships.

At work, titles matter. They define both status and roles. Everyone wants the most senior and impressive tag possible to enhance their status both internally and externally.

At another level, titles unintentionally reveal much about the attitudes of those in charge of any institution be that a major corporation, an NGO or a government department.

In this context, a personal hate is ‘Relationship Manager’ and all that this title implies. There are many reasons:

First, RMs are seldom available when you need them as you are just one of countless people for whom they are responsible. And if they are otherwise occupied, ill or on leave, finding a substitute is a challenge. Of course, the richer you are the less problematic this becomes.

Second, in commercial organisations their primary task is to maximise the profitability of your relationship. They are sales people. Their brief is to sell you something whether you need it or not. Many companies talk about ‘needs based selling’ but few practise it. It gets in the way of financial targets and bonuses.

Third, the implication of the title is that nobody else in the organisation has a responsibility for, or even any interest in, a civilised relationship with you. Exploring corporate or government websites reinforces this perception. Once you have ignored the various sales pitches, ploughed through the Frequently Asked Questions that seldom match your own list, and contemplated the email options, you are left with at best a hotline, or more likely a sense of depression. Finding a human being with whom to have a relationship is a problem.

The entire charade makes a nonsense of a vital component of all corporate management, relationships.

An exaggeration? No. The misuse and debasement of language, the abundance of jargon obscures more than it ever reveals. Jargon, as will be discussed later, has many functions, most of them malign: to lend credence to mundane or trivial observations, to enhance the status of initiates who are familiar with the terminology, to obscure the absence of logic or serious thought, to create a false expectation on the part of a third party. Relationship Manager falls into this last category.

Relationships in any organisation are hugely important, far too important to be debased by the misapplication of titles. Any work entails the management of relationships whether they are with customers, clients, bosses, subordinates, colleagues, suppliers, influencers such as media (both conventional and social), analysts, NGOs, communities, politicians/legislators and regulators.

Relationship management is the responsibility of everyone. It requires appropriate technical and professional skills, without which mutual respect is impossible. And it absolutely demands clarity of thought, action and communication, attributes that are surprisingly rare. If you cannot effectively manage working relationships your job is unlikely to be enjoyable and your career will be less stellar.

These themes will underpin future posts and, later, a simple tool will be offered to help track, evaluate and score your relationships at work. But one cannot conclude this post without offering an alternative to the excoriated Relationship Manager. Primary Contact, Occasionally Available is tempting as well as accurate but unlikely to look good on a business card. I would settle for the plain and simple Account Manager. It avoids any misrepresentation of the essential impersonality of the role.

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