Contact Negotiations: How to get employees to share relationship capital

By Ryan Galloway
The Brief
Building relationship capital is difficult, and employees can be understandably loath to share the fruits of their labor. Getting them over their reluctance requires trust, agency…and maybe a little sweetening of the pot.

Professional contacts are personal, often hard-won possessions, accumulated in the trenches over the years at conferences, jobs, and random encounters. Ask someone to share a contact list with a colleague and the request will be met with healthy skepticism. Ask them to share that list with the whole company, and your very sanity will be questioned. But it is just that kind of all-for-one cooperation that distinguishes the most efficient businesses. So how can you get employees to overcome their anxiety and embrace the idea of sharing their relationship capital?

Help Them Trust You. I’ve written before about millennials’ trepidation with professional networking, but the issue of trust extends beyond that twenty-something threshold. In a recent survey by Staffbay.com, more than 87% of employees reported that they planned to leave their current job sometime in 2014. The primary reason for the coming exodus: distrust of their boss. 

Moving past that roadblock will require educating the staff. The concept of corporate relationship capital is still pretty new, likely to be alien to many professionals. So before launching any relationship capital initiative, make sure you thoroughly explain what it is. Focus on the mechanics of a network-sharing program, be clear about what you are asking to be shared, and explain how each employee’s contacts will—and won’t—be used.

Show them they’re still in control. While you’re explaining the ins and outs of the relationship capital game, don’t forget to emphasize that employees will always be the point of contact for their own connections. Let them know that no one will be contacting their buddy at Acme Consolidated without their knowledge. Likewise, make it clear that participation doesn’t necessarily require them to share all of their contacts. Most important, emphasize that they can opt out without repercussion. Giving employees a sense of agency eliminates the negative consequences of reactance and is in fact likely to boost participation.

Make it worth their while. At first blush, relationship capital programs seem as though they will only benefit sales and business development teams. Why, a non-revenue generator is likely to ask, should I give up my contacts so some account guy can pocket a commission? Showing how relationship capital can drive overall revenue performance is the first piece of an answer—a big piece if increased revenues mean a bigger bonus pool. 

Of course, you can sidestep that kind of futures wagering entirely by incentivizing participation. One way HR departments recruit is by offering employees bonuses to find their next workmate, essentially, paying them to dredge their bank of relationship capital. Revdev efforts can be jumpstarted in much the same way, say by offering a small commission for whenever an employee’s connection results in new business or a closed deal. 

The Takeaway. Launching a relationship capital initiative isn’t always easy. But once employees see that you understand their concerns, learn about the proposed program’s mechanics and limitations, and find out that they may be eligible for a pay to play bonus, it is more likely that you will see buy-in across the board and a more robust network across your business.


Ryan Galloway oversees content for The Hired Guns, a digital marketing and talent consulting firm in New York City. He has written for Business Insider and Forbes.com and is a frequent contributor to this blog. 
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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