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HR: "Oh Can you PLEASE stop banging on about relationships!"
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"Oh Can you PLEASE stop banging on about relationships!"

By Robert Parkinson, CEO & Founder RMG Selection


BT 201608 130 01 03 Photo 01 1In the last article, there was a nice piece written by one of my team on how to create good relationships. I want to give a different perspective this time, and suggest why, in my view actually everything is becoming less and less about relationships, and more and more about substance; and of course how all this fits in to the prism of "Human Resource".


First of all though, don't you get sick of people talking incessantly about how important it is to have "good relationships"? - all the time! It never stops in China! If you ask someone what will make them successful in their studies, the answer is: "A good relationship with my professor". If you ask someone what are the essentials to success in your career, the answer is invariably: "lots of 'cherished' connections and contacts" [being good at what you do is sometimes a very long way down that list]; If you ask someone what do their clients want (you guessed it) it's: "a strong relationship".


BT 201608 130 03 hlThis encore of "good relationship" "good relationship" "good relationship" on occasion has made me quietly go mad! No! I shout (to myself). It's not just about relationships ("It" I suppose meaning success in what you are doing): "It's" about knowledge, credibility, sensitivity, ability; adaptability, and most importantly the ability to build and sustain trust with others.


Possibly even more annoyingly as we start to slice up the relationship obsession, another expression I hear often is "My friend": "My client and I are very good friends:" Oh really I think, that's why they hammer you down on fees and make no apology for calling you at 9pm! Relationships where the service provider is exploited by the purchaser are bad relationships. Period.


BT 201608 130 02 04 bigstock Woman Screaming With Social Ne 169087581When I ask my staff where they have found a candidate, the answer will often be "My friend referred me to him" when in fact it wasn't his friend at all, it was a business contact on the company's database. Is it even possibly to have a genuine friendship with someone who you have a commercial relationship with? Instinct tells me not. You might be friendly with them, but that doesn't mean you're actually friends, which is a subtle but important distinction very many misunderstand.


What does a good relationship mean anyway? What "a good relationship" is, is subjective. To me it is a relationship of productivity and honesty, and mutual trust and respect. To others "a good relationship" may be timely favors and gifts.


Of course us those of us who are foreigners really have no idea (and I don't intend to explore it here) just how important relationships are to Chinese people (and indeed to Asian people in general). I suppose it certainly must be very important otherwise they wouldn't talk about it the whole time? But certainly we probably should respect its importance whether perceived or real.


The other positive thing to say about the "relationship obsession" is that Chinese people are both pragmatic and instinctively commercial. They know that a good (business) relationship without timely service or product delivery will not last long, so perhaps when they hear the "relationship, relationship" refrain, they assume that good service is 'a given'.


So there are pros and cons of the "relationship obsession" and I agree that there might be positive reasons for emphasizing relationships; and we will forgive our hosts the occasional annoyance.


However: what we have not yet done is answered the question that I've implied from the beginning, and that is: If your clients (clients could be colleagues, bosses etc) don't just want good relationships with you, then what do they want?


BT 201608 130 04 hlThe answer, in my view, is simply this: You do what you say you'll do. You deliver. Without delivery, a (good) relationship is pointless.


It doesn't matter how nice the receptionist is, if the bed's lumpy and the shower doesn't work, the 'friendliness' is irrelevant and my relationship with that hotel is over. It doesn't matter how cozy our lunch on Friday was, if you're 20 minutes late to my meeting, I don't like it, and our lunch will not forgive it.


There's a more important reason that all of this matters in China in 2016: As more business sectors are opened up, and GDP slows, and the rest of world's economies lack, then the more competitive the Chinese business climate will become. Indeed one day, China Mobile, Unicom & Telecom will not be the only 3 at the mobile providers in the market, and no matter how many years you've been with the big 3, if you get a better deal from "Virgin Mobile China" (for example – it doesn't actually exist), you'll move to Virgin Mobile China. Old relationship over.


BT 201608 130 03 06 USED RelationshipsAll of this is directly relevant to the workforce of China in 2016: Just as the economy as a whole in China will undoubtedly feature a downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on quality, the same is true of us as "Human Resources".


I am now in my second decade living and working in China. In the first I observed a labour market that embraced even the most semi-competent as a high-fliers. The word "talent" was showered in amongst every HR related conversation. Even I stopped getting shocked when literally everyone said they expected 30% more salary for doing the same job just because it was with another company.


My predication is that this decade of the outrageous pay increases even for the mediocre will not be repeated. Just like the country as a whole will have to become much more competitive and value oriented; so must people in their own careers stop focusing on "who do I know" (the relationships) and start focusing on "what do I know" (the substance).


I remember at the start of my career I read an article at a company careers fair which basically said we much prefer people who can be successful in any country at anytime rather than people who can be mega-stars, but only in one location and at one thing. I didn't completely understand that then, I certainly do now. Never more is this truth-truer than in China in 2016. In light of that assertion, how important do you think relationships are now?


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