January 29, 2019

How to Earn the Loyalty of Your Partners and Associates

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I shake my head sometimes when I hear executives complain about the lack of loyalty from their employees, and yet they never hesitate to lay off a bunch of them just to keep their shareholders happy. They treat their employees like replaceable cogs in a machine but are surprised when their employees leave for another company as if simply providing a salary is enough to earn a person’s undying fealty.

Loyalty is like respect: it must be earned. You can’t demand it, you can’t expect it, you can only instill and inspire it in your people. As executives, you should earn loyalty in your associates and vendors, before you ask for it from your customers. (That’s because loyal employees and vendors will earn loyal customers for you.)

To earn loyalty comes down to one very simple practice. Say what you are going to do and do what you say. Every time.

There will be times one of those constituents disappoints you, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw the baby out with the bath water. You don’t always have to terminate that relationship with that partner. In fact, practicing a little forgiveness, or at least giving them a second chance, can earn their long-term loyalty.

Here’s an example that happened several years ago. In a couple of the operations in one of the little towns where our plants were located, I used a painting contractor, Jerry Gaston, to paint all of our equipment once a year while we were shut down for major maintenance.

Jerry owned a small painting business with several crew members. He was working on a house one day, unrelated to our company, when one of his people was spraying aerosol texture in the furnace area. The pilot light ignited the paint, and there was an explosion and a fire.

As soon as it happened, Jerry ran into the burning house to rescue this woman. Unfortunately, she died, while he ended up with third-degree burns over 25 percent of his body. He was, and still is, the owner of this business, and this was a real tragedy. He was going to be out of commission for many, many months, and this was going to most likely be the end of his business.

So I told my three organizations that were within his service area, “I don’t care what you do or how you do it, I want you to keep this guy and his crew busy every day.” Now, Jerry was in the hospital getting skin grafts and going through therapy, so it was a very long process. I said, “we’re going to keep him in business one way or another, and you’re going to ensure that his people are doing a great job.”

And that’s what we did. Jerry often tells the story and says that I saved his life. He told me once it was so bad that he was contemplating suicide. The only thing that stopped him from doing it was that he knew that he had to get up the next morning.

We helped him save his company and keep his employees working. I didn’t do it for self-serving reasons, but I earned Jerry’s undying loyalty because I remained loyal to him. If there was an issue, and he could solve it, he would do it the same day. He never gouged us on price, and we treated him as if he was part of the organization.

We helped someone save his business, and as a result, we had a vendor we could always rely on, and he had a customer for life. We earned his loyalty because we treated him fairly and helped him out when he was in need.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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