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Hands on Management

Building quality relationships at work


Todd Davis, Executive Vice President, Chief People Officer at FranklinCovey on his recent mentorship and training visit to Kenya, coached top country CEOs and top HR professionals on the greatest driver of professional and personal effectiveness. 

Relationships, whether professional or personal require an intricately woven mix of attributes to thrive and eventually create an environment in which people involved enjoy harmony and growth.

However, for many organisations, despite leaders often fully subscribing to the belief that its people are the company’s most valuable assets, it all ends at this adage.

Many CEOs and Human Resource Managers struggle to build winning teams even when armed with fool-proof plans to buffer the vision of what they’d wish to achieve. What they fail to appreciate is that the most critical aspect in winning teams is building effective relationships.

Talent development guru, Todd Davis, Executive Vice President, Chief People Officer at FranklinCovey, on his recent mentorship and training visit to Kenya, coached top country CEOs and HRMs on how to build quality relationships between people at work. It has been proven that this is the greatest driver of professional and personal effectiveness, and eventually the tool that creates the culture that becomes an organisation’s ultimate competitive advantage. 

Davis, the author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work underlines the importance of how companies can create a healthier work environment, build strong teams and construct safe and comfortable places where employees feel respected and appreciated.

In his book, he notes that in his 30 years’ experience in one of the most people-centric organisations in the world, he has come to realise that relationships are so pivotal to one’s happiness that when they go bad, it literally feels like hell.

“When people feel disconnected, disenfranchised, or disillusioned at work, such feelings tend to be tied to those with whom they work with: their boss, team members, colleagues and even direct reports,” says Davis.

Building effective relationships

Davis, using a simple toolbox packed with tips and ideas took the leaders through the book using practical activities, practical case scenarios and flash cards summarising all the 15 practices in an intense training process that engaged them in their personal aspirations and how they tie those aspirations as leaders to influence the teams they lead.

How do leaders build effective relationships? “To improve a company’s effectiveness, relationships and results begin with leaders getting better by focusing on improving their own paradigms and behaviours,” Davis says.

This, he says increases a leader’s ability to influence others, beginning with the important relationships in their personal and professional lives. By prioritising, strengthening these relationships becomes the foundation for a culture leaders establish at the workplace and this culture, he says, drives everything at the workplace.

“Everything gets better, becomes more effective and is more meaningful when our key relationships both at work and our private lives are rich and effective,” says Davis.

However, he warns against common stumbling blocks that stand in the way of building a people-centric company; blaming others for our problems, focusing on the urgent but not important things, jumping a solution before we even understand the problem are some of the pitfalls.

Davis’ five priority practices

1. Talk less listen more. More of listening than talking helps employees understand each other’s perspective. Engaging in conversations is crucial. One of peoples’ deepest needs is to feel understood.

2. See the tree not the seedlings. It is crucial to see the potential in others. “We tend to dismiss people quickly. By doing so, our limiting beliefs of others eventually become reality. This means, growth is stunted in yourself and others and hence leaders are stuck in continually looking elsewhere for talent that may be right at their front.”

3. Carry your own weather. People who are controlled by other people, circumstances or their own knee-jerk reactions limit their abilities to positively influence others. Avoid being reactive to the world and prevent other people’s action influencing your mood, your actions and the decisions you make.

4. Make it safe to tell the truth. Feedback is important in decision-making. In an environment where feedback is suppressed because the person giving it does not feel safe, leaders often remain unaware of what they should know. Here, the emperor – who could be the leader – is naked. Often, employees are hesitant to give feedback because they know the supervisor will take it negatively.

5. Wear glasses that work. Leaders at times find themselves in a place where their version of truth is not-so-true or complete after all. “This is characterised by acting on incorrect information, failure to achieve expected results and a feeling of foolishness when you realise your version of the truth is inaccurate. We view those around us through a set of lenses, that can distort reality,” says Davis.

Davis’ practices, he notes, cannot operate in exclusivity. For organisations to thrive, leaders must appreciate the changing workforce trends. The primary focus for every HR team should be a continuous search for top talent, creating a challenging, exciting inclusive culture that keeps that talent highly engaged.“Employees want to be appreciated and engaged in meaningful work. They want leaders who believe in them and challenge them to be their best. If this isn’t provided, top talent will find another place to work,” he says. He underlines that while culture is an organisation’s ultimate competitive advantage, it is many other things. It comes down to the collective behaviour of the people, which is shaped by the nature of relationships that exist.

Wambui Karani is a freelance writer based in Nairobi. Email:

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