Relationomics, Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.
Summary: The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity.
The odd title of this book, Relationomics, is the author’s way of communicating the vital importance of healthy relationships to healthy organizational economics. He defines relationomics as:
“…the study of the observable impact that relationships have on economic activity. It’s an assessment of the value created by relationships as opposed to simply a fiscal transactional analysis. In the marketplace, a significant causal correlation exists between the strength of the relationship and the flow of resources. The stronger and healthier the relationships, the more productive and profitable the transactions between those parties tend to be” (p. 36).
I found this an extremely practical and wise book that rings true to my years as a director in a religious non-profit, and challenged me to take a look at my own relational practices. The book is organized around four relational qualities, with several chapters under each of the following: intentionality, humility, accountability, and sustainability. I’ll share some of the most valuable insights and takeaways for me from each section.
Intentionality. As a kid who grew up as something of a loner, his chapter on The Great Deception names a lesson I’ve had to learn–that growth comes in relationships as we have others who encourage, sharpen, and challenge us. He calls the effort to grow outside of relationships the “Luciferian lie.” When organizations treat people as pawns and foster cut-throat competition rather than collaboration, they suffer. He argues that effective leaders foster remarkable cultures where people “believe the best in one another, want the best for one another, and expect the best from one another” (p. 63).
Humility. Humble leaders know themselves well and are comfortable in their own skin, which breeds in turn authenticity and empathy. He describes two kinds of growth spirals. One is descending characterized by defensiveness, rationalization, stagnation, and alienation. The other is ascending, characterized by openness, honest evaluation, solution orientation, and inspiration through unity. He also proposes a Poor Man’s 360 question that I intend to use: “What’s it like for you to be on the other side of me?” He also states that there are two kinds of leaders in organizations. There are value creators, who bring more to the table than they take away, enriching the lives of others and their relationships. There are also value extractors, who get more from you than they offer. It shows up at networking events, and Ross proposes a practice he calls “NetWeaving,” of looking for ways, to connect others with common interest, “paying it forward,” as it were. Often we don’t lead like this because of fear, which great leaders transcend when they decide that being open-handed actually creates for them a greater capacity to receive as well as give.
Accountability. Good organizational relationships flourish when everyone’s OAR is in the water: when there is ownership, accountability, and responsibility. Good organizations have accountability in how they engage in workplace conflicts, the goal of which is to avoid throwing sand. He gives five practical suggestions in this regard:
- I will talk to you before I ever talk about you.
- I will engage in candid conversations with humility, knowing I have room to grow.
- We will seek objective input if we come to an impasse.
- I recognize that the objective of the conversation is to seek understanding, resolve issues, and move toward unity.
- I will forgive quickly [with some qualifications about destructive behaviors] (pp. 177-183).
Sometimes this means practicing RAW conversations. These Reveal reality, Advance creative dialogue, and Wrestle with solutions. This last seems particularly important–that both stay at the table (with time outs if it gets too emotional) until there is resolution.
Sustainability. This circles back to the idea of leaders who move beyond self-interest in their leadership. They are grounded leaders who are emotionally mature, have established convictions, and are determined. They are “rooted in reality, emotionally centered, relationally rich, results-oriented, other focused, mission-minded.” He offers a great example in the founder of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, who is committed to high wages for his workers, and a share of the enterprise. His insights about the revolving door of employee turnover focuses on how most organizations hire too quickly, and he contrasts Chick-fil-A, where hires are interviewed by every person they will directly relate to in the organization over an extended period.
Each chapter includes reflection questions to help one crystallize the chapter content and apply it to one’s own situation. The writing style is clear, personal, filled with illustrations and acronyms to help remember the content. If that is not sufficient, Ross includes a glossary at the end of the book. For those looking for an approach to relationships that is faith-based, you may recognize biblical allusions and principles in the writing. But because this seems directed to a wider audience, there are no Bible references or discussions of faith in the workplace.
There are lessons here for any relational context, including marriage. This is especially valuable for anyone who leads a team or an organization–whether a sports club, a work group or business, a task force, or a church or non-profit group. Unhealthy relationships can suck the life out of an organization. Healthy relationships with a high performing team can be exhilarating. Randy Ross’s book can help a leader, who is ready to learn, to develop the latter.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.