Working with you, not for you

When each party meets the expectation of the other, there is a good connection. But if it’s all take, or all give, relationships can fall apart.

Recently, a friend of mine, a respected global professor in economics, invited me to a talk. Usually when I go to something like this, I don’t understand any of it and end up switching off, letting my attention wander into less-academic territory. But this time, from the word go, I was enthralled by what my friend had to say. 

He spoke about the principle of reciprocity. The Google definition of reciprocity is,

“The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.”

In social psychology, it is defined as the social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.

It’s a key aspect of healthy relationships. When each party meets the expectation of the other, there is a good connection. But if it’s all take, or all give, relationships can fall apart.

Reciprocity works everywhere

As my friend was speaking, I realised that the same principle applies to business. Everything needs to be reciprocal. It goes much deeper than just the exchange of money for a product.

When you work with clients in an on-going way, you need a trusted relationship. You need to look at the dynamic that exists between you and assess if it is mutually beneficial. If the supplier is always expected to be generous, understanding and patient, while the client is bullying and impatient, it is not a reciprocal relationship. There is no win-win. 

Likewise, if the supplier is demanding and expects all information at the drop of a hat, there is no reciprocity. There might eventually be a good product handed to the client but nothing about the process makes them want to experience it again. The relationship has become a stunted version of what it could have been.

Trust transforms everything

I left the talk with my friend’s message turning over in my mind. I reflected that in our experience at Worthers, our best relationships with clients are the ones that are reciprocal. There is a win-win effect that goes far beyond a basic business transaction.

Good business relationships have openness and honesty on both sides. This enables them to walk forward together without second guessing about how everything will turn out. The best relationships go even further, stepping into trust.

One of our major clients had a specification of what they wanted us to build. We were concerned that it wasn’t quite what they needed. We put that in our proposal, saying, “We want you to have the right solution. Would you be prepared for us to evolve this?” 

They decided to trust us, which enabled us to serve them better. They received a far better solution than if they had dug their heels in. After we gave them the adapted product they could have pointed to the contract and said, “But you haven’t stuck to the original specification.” They chose reciprocity instead, and a win-win was created.

The relationship that came out of this experience was built on solid trust. A foundation that has enabled us to keep creating better solutions for them, pushing the limits of what they believed was possible. 

A new norm for business

When our goal is to help people, not just sell a product, the potential of a relationship increases exponentially. In the same way, if we’re willing to let our suppliers become more like partners, the boundaries of what we can achieve together disappear beyond the horizon. 

Win-win doesn’t have to stay as an ideal, it could become the norm. It’s fundamental to how we work at Worthers and I can already see it catching on elsewhere. My hope is that it will continue to be contagious as charities, churches and businesses come to see that win-win works for everyone.


2 years ago | Thought Leaders

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