The Four Kinds Of Relationship Maintenance

It takes more than an occasional tune-up to keep your staff in gear.

Have you ever thought, “Life would be great if it weren’t for certain people?” Of course you have. And do you know someone, if he/she disappeared during lunch, your life would be better? The answer is probably “yes.”

Relationships — on and off the job — can be extremely challenging. When I’m speaking in organizations, people tell me they’re quite good at their jobs, but most of their job problems are people problems. It’s like the sign I saw in Key West. It read, “Tell your boss exactly how you feel, and the truth shall set you free.”

And when audience members talk to me during break, they ask me how they might handle certain people at home. One person even gave me a card with his motto on it: “Make love, not war. Or do both. Get married.”

The truth is relationships help us grow, enjoy life, and find success. But relationships can also hinder growth, dampen enjoyment, and block achievement. The latter is especially true if you treat the cars in your life better than you treat the people in your life.

I like Debra Thompson’s “maintenance concept.” As the author of The Forgotten Customer, she talks about the four kinds of maintenance you would give your car — if you cared about the car and wanted it to work well for a long, long time. The same four kinds of maintenance apply to your internal and external customers as well as your family members.

First, there’s PROACTIVE MAINTENANCE. It’s the action you take to avoid having problems. With regard to your car, you try to find smooth roads and use smooth braking to avoid some problems at a later point in time.

Likewise, back on the job, smart people and smart organizations do such things as making sure they have the right people in the right jobs, and they make sure they put time and money aside to train those people for every aspect of their jobs. What about you? Do you utilize techniques that avoid problems, or do you create the conditions that lead to people problems?

Smart people and smart organizations meet with their employees and customers on a regular basis to build good relations so they develop an understanding of their needs. They know it’s a job that’s never done.

Michael Grant wrote about that in the “San Diego Union” as he commented on his marriage relationship. He wrote, “We continue to adjust to each other, an adjustment that started 19 years ago and will never stop because we continue to grow and change.”

“We will always be different,” Grant continued. “I think of anniversaries as a time for roses and dinner; she prefers Mexican food and a movie. For Halloween she thinks apples are a good treat; I say, ‘Since when did Halloween have anything to do with nutrition?’ Don’t mistake it for a solid marriage. There is no such thing. Marriage is more like an airplane than a rock. You have to commit the thing to flight, and then it creaks and groans, and keeping it airborne depends entirely on attitude. Working at it, though, we can fly forever. Only she and I know how hard it has been, or how worthwhile.”

Second, there’s PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE. It’s the things you do to keep your car running smoothly. They include changing the oil, getting a lube job, and checking the tires.

In the people world, preventative maintenance includes — among many other things — regularly scheduled performance reviews — that are two-way in nature. You give and get feedback as to what’s working or what could be made to work even better. You train people to do their jobs and do them well — and that means training them in the technical aspects of their jobs as well as the soft skills that will make or break their success.

A big part of that includes listening, as Stewart Levine reported in his book, Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration. He wrote about a lawyer and his client who had just finished a hearing before a judge. The lawyer presented exhibits, affidavits, and legal arguments for two hours. With all that evidence, the lawyer concluded, his client didn’t need to testify.

Apparently, the lawyer was right. The judge awarded his client $500,000, and the lawyer was thrilled at the great victory. He turned to his client and said, “Isn’t that terrific? We just won half a million dollars.”

But the distraught client simply said, “I never got a chance to tell my story.” He wanted someone to “listen” to him. And the lawyer didn’t understand that. The lawyer forgot how important the “soft” skills were.

To keep things running smoothly in your relationships, to practice preventive maintenance, you’ve got to let people talk. And you’ve got to listen.

Third, there’s PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE. You take certain actions because you know certain things are going to break at fairly predictable times. In your car, for example, you may change the timing belt at 60,000 miles because the manufacturer says it could easily break after that point. Or you replace your tires when they show too much wear so you don’t get a blowout.

The same thing is true about the people in your life. You have to be aware of those things that may cause them to have a blowout. It may be giving people too much work to do in too little time. The stress has got to come out somewhere.

You can’t ignore the stress that may be present in your coworkers. A study by the Families and Work Institute and Brainwaves Group Research Alert said 80% of workers reported that balancing their work and family lives was a top priority. And 45% of students, your prospective employees, said being able to have a life outside work is a top factor in deciding on their first employer.

One good way to help people maintain their work-life balance is through the use of a “paid leave bank.” Paul Gibson, an attorney and human resources analyst at the CCH Human Resources Group, says, “Our surveys show that a paid leave bank is the most successful way to release the stress that results when people have too few hours to do too many tasks.”

A “paid leave bank” lumps all time off — vacation, sick days, and personal time — into one “bank” that employees can draw from as needed. It reduces stress because it lets them schedule time off. And the managers and companies also benefit because they know in advance when their people will be out. It avoids the last-minute scrambling and stress that occurs when you suddenly have to cover for a person who calls in “sick.”

Finally, there’s CORRECTIVE MAINTENANCE. There are repair actions you take when your car breaks down. Despite your best care, sometimes things just fall apart, and you have to repair them.

And you have to repair them fairly quickly. You wouldn’t want to keep on driving your car when a red light on your instrument panel demanded that something be fixed immediately. And you wouldn’t want to ignore an upset employee or customer for too long. You wouldn’t want to pretend that your work environment was just fine when you knew it had turned toxic and negative.

That’s why I offer a program called, “Staying Up In A Down World: 8 Keys To A Positive Work Environment.” It teaches you everything you need to know and do to build a great place to work. Give me a call and we can talk about it.

If your work environment needs corrective maintenance, you might teach your people to use positive language. Have them replace “I should” with “I will.” Rather than say, “I don’t have enough time to…,” encourage employees to say, “I have just enough time to…”

Teach you staff to avoid negative self-talk. Urge them to replace phrases such as, “That was stupid,” with “From this experience, I’ve learned…”

Do you treat your cars better than your people? I hope not. Take on these four kinds of maintenance and you’ll keep your relationships in good working order.

Action:  List the four kinds of maintenance. Then write down at least five things you are doing or could do in each of those four areas. You’ll be well on your way to developing a roadmap that takes you to great relationships on and off the job.