Relationship Capital: Turning individual assets into institutional profits

By Josh Mait
If you read Techcrunch, PandoDaily, AllThingsD or pretty much any tech blog, you might think the majority of American companies—large and small—have turned themselves into hyper-efficient machines, never missing an opportunity to acquire a new client or close a new deal. Likewise, most accomplished professionals today think of themselves as master networkers. They have robust LinkedIn accounts. They spend a couple of nights a week socializing in that blurred space between business and personal, and they are savvy enough to periodically send congratulatory emails to familiar names in the news.

And yet, spend any time with a senior stakeholder—manager, owner, investor—and it won’t take long to realize that few executives believe their organizations are anywhere close to maximizing their “relationship capital”: the contacts and connections that individuals and organizations have collected and can exploit to improve business outcomes. Hang out a little more with those decision makers and you’ll understand why. Whatever the cause—divisional silos, flawed incentive structures, adversarial friction between departments, poor communication, privacy concerns—most “progressive” organizations aren’t nearly as progressive as they look. That is, they haven’t really created authentic and meaningful collaboration within their enterprise, the kind that would take them beyond CYA posts to interactions with actual business impact.

The result? Companies are missing opportunities everyday, in almost all aspects of their business, failing to turn individual assets into institutional profits. And that means its time for C-suite executives to re-ask some important questions: 

1. What matters more? It’s what you know and who you know. 
Today, we are quick to celebrate the Next Big Thing: the disruptive idea, the game-changing product, the revolutionary process. But the forces that incite and propel these economic events are human. Without the influencers, the connectors, the warm leads, the ways in, even the best products and processes are destined to languish. What you know matters. And who you know makes what matters happen.    

2. Has access really been democratized?
The temptation is to think the earth is flatter, that everything and everyone we want is suddenly within easy reach. Kickstarter, Linkedin, Twitter … these are just the most obvious icons of this New World Order. Except: Raise your hand if you have never been frustrated by a failure of you or your organization to reach the right person at the right place at the right time. The great irony of our connected world is that the more access everyone has to everyone else, the greater the value is on genuine interactions and warm connections. If only lead generation was as simple as hitting the follow button.

3. Can my organization become more social? 
If real connections matter as much or even more than ideas, and if they are harder to come by now than ever, then any institution that can mine its internal network for external relationships will gain immeasurable advantage over the competition. The problem, of course, is that to achieve that “depth of digging” organizations need to be much more cooperative–they must create a virtuous circle. Organizations that embrace this idea, find that the more their employees share with each other the more they connect with others, and that in turn makes them more likely to share with each other. It’s a cycle that builds on itself, an escalation of collaboration that leads to high-value, impact-driving moments:

  • ?a donor found
  • a merger realized
  • an investor secured
  • a client landed 
  • a board member recruited
  • a partnership formed 
  • an advisor retained
  • a speaker hired?

All these and innumerable other opportunities are buried in every organization’s untapped store of relationship capital. So the only remaining question to answer is: Who wants to figure out how to uncover them?

RelSci helps create competitive advantage for leading non-profit, corporate and financial organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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