Some of us have a hard enough time developing one or two strong personal relationships - let alone the multitude required for a large corporation. Mike Troiano rightly called me out a bit about scaling - businesses have to measure because there are so many different people involved with different priorities, values, and commitment levels. And, indeed, I am not against measurement - you need some way to set goals and make sure you are progressing in that direction - I just think we need to step back more often then we do and evaluate what we are doing using our judgment.
Regardless, there is the issue of how can large organizations - and I mean the ones with tens of thousands of people - scale relationships? For example, if I am Sony and I want to ensure I have a highly trusted relationship with Ingram Micro - how do I evaluate the current state of the relationship and how do I improve it? It involves thousands of people from both companies. What companies have done, of course, is create processes and measurements to ensure consistency in interactions. However that very consistency reduces the potential upside of the relationship as well as the downside. You essentially manage to the lowest common denominator acceptable to you. But you want to encourage the upside - the only option is to start loosening up the process and allowing some or all employees to go above and beyond (and maybe fail a few times too).The prospect is a bit scary since there is a huge revenue dependency between the two partners.
Social media tools have enabled better individual scalability. So that helps in the one-to-many situations - an executive communicating with employees, an account manager sharing information with customer contacts, marketing communicating with a customer base.
But how do you scale many-to-many where all parties are communicating at the same time? Communities and social networks are part of the answer - but how do you keep individuals from going off deck with a small subgroup? I suppose you could shut off email and phone but that seems a bit excessive. I think hiring on values as well as skill sets is a really large part of the picture (see the Zappos example) but for existing organizations you can't really re-invent yourself in that way very quickly. One piece of the answer is for corporations to better understand and articulate their values - for some reason this is almost as hard for companies as it is for individuals. By knowing themselves (i.e am the low cost, bare bones provider) they will know which relationships are most important to them...and it is not always the relationship with the customer.
I don't have the answer - any ideas?
I believe this is the big challenge for 2009. How do you build a relationship-centric business at scale?