Today’s podcast features Megan Apple where she will talk with us about what it takes to build a strategic relationship strategy.
All businesses have a relationships. You will learn what the difference between your garden variety relationship is with a strategic relationship. Too many times business owners are not mindful about things like relationships with their business. After listening to today’s podcast you’ll learn why you need to pay attention to your own strategic relationships within your business.
In today’s podcast you’ll learn:
- What the difference between a garden variety relationship is versus a strategic relationship.
- Why you need to have frank conversations with those you work with about how your relationship will work.
- Where working to your strengths is always the best policy.
- How admitting and knowing what your weaknesses are actually makes you stronger.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at the The Sustainable Business podcast. If it’s your first time here, welcome. And if you’ve been with us before, welcome back.
Today, our guest is Megan Apple. This should be a great episode. I’m really looking forward to it and I hope you are also.
Megan started her business which she calls A Virtual Certainty with ¢47 and a laptop. You’ll have to find out how she managed to do that. She’s on a mission to help other small businesses create great businesses. She was one of Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid first coaches and one of his first head coaches. She still uses his methodology. I also am a Book Yourself Solid coach. It’s one of the many things I’ve gotten certified in. A great program. I highly recommend it. And if we have some time, maybe Megan will tell us a little bit about how that works. So, instead of listening to me, why don’t we bring Megan in?
Hey, Megan, how are you today?
Megan: Hi, Josh. Good to talk to you.
Josh: Thanks so much for joining us.
So, one of the things you told me earlier was that every business requires a relationship. What does that mean?
Megan: Right, so you know, in life, everything’s a relationship, right? You have a relationship with the dry cleaner. You have a relationship with the person that you pick up your food from. Every business is made up of a series of relationships. Employees, vendors, customers, even the relationship that you have with each other. What we don’t have, most of the time, is a relationship strategy.
Josh: Ah, so can you explain a little bit about what a relationship strategy might be and, more importantly, how would you use one?
Megan: Absolutely. So if you think about communication, that’s what drives all relationships. And most of our communication is tactical. What we fail to do, most of the time, is to be mindful and intentional in the kinds of communication that we are utilizing and remembering that that’s the currency that builds the relationships. It means that our relationships tend to be more tactical than strategic and there’s this golden opportunity in every work environment to use a relationship strategy to actually increase productivity and engagements and make your people happier and more efficient.
Josh: So what is a strategic relationship strategy?
Megan: So, when you think about it, it starts with what your actual purpose is. Let’s take it into the business world since that’s what we’re talking about. In order to build a sustainable business, one of the things you have to have is a specific purpose. Why are you existing? And if you think about how you actually formulate your relationships within that organization and with outside customers and vendors, that begins to support your brand.
So I just worked with a client who has many, many employees. And two of them got along okay and they did okay work. One of their jobs was to start marketing and go out and do presentations. And they were stepping over one another in the presentation because they have really sat down and determined how they were going to work effectively together. Once they did that, the presentation was quite a bit stronger because they had intentionally and mindfully decided how they were going to interact. That’s a good example of a relationship strategy.
Josh: So, what did they specifically do to change how they interacted with each other?
Megan: First, they had to have an honest, frank conversation with one another about what wasn’t working in their presentation because they worked okay together. You know, it was all fine. It just wasn’t fabulous. And so, they had to have that really frank, honest conversation which was a little uncomfortable but—you know, I was there as the facilitator. And once they did that, then they were able to actually strategize how they could utilize their own strengths to the very best so that their presentation would move from good to great – to borrow a great phrase. And they sat down intentionally and said, “I’m going to interact with you this way. And if I start stepping on you, for example in this presentation, here’s our code word. Right? Here’s where I think you can bring the most value.” The outcome was amazing but it also went beyond just a presentation because these two people who had worked together – for years, all of a sudden were able to work so much more effectively together because their relationship dynamic had changed.
Josh: So, that sounds great. I always want to work with my strengths. What do you do to help your clients figure out what their strengths are?
Megan: A lot of things. I mean, everybody knows what their strengths are. They just sometimes don’t own them. And so, I usually go through a process with them that really pulls apart, in your flow, where you’re feeling most comfortable.
There’s lots of fun assessments out there, you know. There’s Myers-Briggs. There’s Strengthsfinder. And those are helpful tools. But really, everybody knows what their one thing is. You know, what they’re really, really good at. And everybody knows those things that they’re not so good at. What they’re lacking oftentimes is a space where they can be self aware and communicate that in kind of a safe way so that they can begin to identify it a little bit more specifically.
Josh: You know, my experience is business owners have a very difficult time doing that because, for whatever reason, they feel like they never can admit they have any weaknesses.
Megan: I think that’s a great point. And one of the techniques that I use is appreciative inquiry. I have found that if I go in and start talking about what isn’t working, most business owners, even though they’ve hired me, right, will say, “Well, things aren’t really that bad” Right? If I go in and say, “Tell me what is working. Tell me what you really think is working well here and build from that perspective.” Then all of a sudden, it’s more comfortable for them to start talking about what isn’t working because we’re starting from a positive point.
Josh: So, I’m a huge fan of appreciative inquiry. I’m glad you brought that up. I think it’s horribly underused, especially in small businesses.
Megan: It is.
Josh: I’m going to go back and ask you a question, then I want to get into appreciative inquiry. But this is one of my questions I’ve asked in seminars for 20 years now, every time I teach. “You have a choice. You can improve your strengths or improve your weaknesses. Which do you do?”
Megan: Improve your strengths.
Josh: Okay. Can you explain a little bit why that’s so important?
Megan: Let’s face it. I have lots of weaknesses. They are never going to get better. Why would I spend my energy there? I want to develop and enhance the things that I’m naturally good at. And I want to find the people that can do the things that I’m not good at. Because if I put my energy in enhancing the things that I can do well, it’s going to become that much better. I am never going to be great at the things that I don’t do well.
Josh: Yeah, that’s my—my wise guy statement around that is, “Why would I want to get all the way up to mediocre when I can be world class?”
Megan: Exactly. It’s kind of like trying to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic and hope for a different outcome.
Josh: So, let’s talk about “respect for opposites” for a second. And if you’re going to build a complementary team in your company, you have to have people who are good at what you’re not good at. And in my experience, that usually causes tension and way too many business owners handle that issue really poorly. Could you talk about how you would help somebody overcome that?
Megan: Absolutely. And, you know what, that’s a really great question. So, I call it “decoding.” Okay?
You’re a financial guy, Josh. I am not. So, you have a language around numbers that I don’t have. In order for us to be able to communicate effectively, I have to understand what your language is. And so, what I hope business owners do is basically “decode” all of the things that are being said and done because if it doesn’t make sense to them and they feel uncomfortable, then they start becoming resistant or micromanaging. So, by decoding that and helping everybody understand what the other perspectives are, that’s when you begin to get that stronger team, going back to remembering it’s a relationship strategy, right?
Megan: So, the business owners may not be a numbers guy or gal but if I can help them create a relationship with that specific intent, which is to make the business work more efficiently, then they can develop ways to communicate around those topics in a way that works for both.
Josh: You just touched on one of my favorite issues which is jargon. A lot of times, I have found when advisors – this typically happens with advisors to private business owners, they start using all sorts of jargon for whatever industry it is and because the business owner doesn’t say anything to them, they think they’re being heard and understood. One of the things I encourage everybody to do – I just want to get your feedback on this is I say, “I want you to become stupid. I want you to ask these questions when you don’t understand.”
Megan: Absolutely. You tell me what you think, Josh, but I think it’s the job of the advisor to create that kind of environment.
Josh: Oh, I agree 100% but the challenge comes in, is advisers don’t. There are some who do by the way. When I say, “they don’t”, I’m saying the vast majority don’t.
Megan: Well, you know, I think this may be just the way I’m wired, but one of the things that I really try to do is to make myself not the expert. I want to be the collaborator.
Megan: I’m going to bring you some knowledge that I’ve been able to aggregate. And the reason I have that knowledge is because I’ve made 5,275 mistakes myself.
Josh: Only that many?
Megan: Only that many but that was only this week, Josh.
Josh: Oh, okay.
Megan: We try not to count from last week.
Megan: I use myself. I make myself vulnerable by sharing things that I have done, that I’ve learned from because it takes me from the expert role to a collaborator. It opens up that honest conversation. And then, I also do a lot of check-in. First of all, I hate jargon so I don’t use it. But when I’m talking to a business owner and we’re talking about some of those difficult things, I’ll say, “Let’s take a timeout. I’m not sure that I was clear. Tell me what you heard and let’s make sure that I expressed myself.” And that gives them an opening to ask the question.
Josh: So, do you find that your clients turn around and start doing that with their people also? And if they don’t, how do you coach them to do so?
Megan: Oftentimes, because I’m modeling all the time, right? That’s one of my jobs.
Megan: They do do it but what I try to do—
Again, let’s think about appreciative inquiry. If I’m sitting in a meeting, for example – this just happened last week with a business owner that I’m working with, and his communication was less than optimal. Maybe he was having a bad day, who knows. So, during the meeting, I sort of tried to clarify and clean some things up.
But at the end of the meeting, I sat down with him and I said, “How do you think that meeting went?” And he said, “Well, I think, it was okay.” And I said, “Wow, I wonder, did you notice that so and so seemed to be really resistant?” “Oh yeah, I did notice that.” “Okay, cool. I’m wondering what would’ve happened if you had tried these other two things.” And so, we had a conversation and at the end of it he said to me, “I didn’t do a good job, did I?” And I said, “Well, we don’t use good and bad. You could’ve been more effective but how great that you learned these two new tools.”
Josh: So, I love what you’re doing there. And for folks who may not have noticed, I want to point this out because it’s absolutely key. Megan was just using what I call the “Socratic method of management” which means she didn’t tell, she asked. So, Megan, in our short conversation, this seems to be the way you work. Can you explain why asking questions is just so much more powerful than telling?
Megan: Do you remember being five, a long time ago?
Josh: Barely, I’m older than dirt so.
Megan: I was five when dinosaurs were walking the Earth, right?
And people told us how to do things. And the absolute instinctual reaction that we all have as adults is to pretend like we’re five again and we resist. When we ask questions, and when we’re brave enough to stay in the question, what happens is it gets people engaged and curious, and they’re part of the solution. I would much rather get results than be right. So, by staying in the question and helping people understand internally what’s going on, they actually come up with their own solutions and they’re usually brilliant.
Josh: My belief is we’re all experts at what we want already and all we need is somebody to help us discover that which is what you’re doing and I’m very appreciative that you’re out there working with business owners doing this stuff because too many people in the advice business want to give advice and not help their clients discover what’s right for them.
Megan: Thank you. That is my bias. I think we all know. We just need someone sometimes to help us reach inside and discover what really works and what doesn’t.
Josh: So, there’s a term which is a bit of a jargon but it’s a good term and people can usually figure it out, it’s root cause. Do you do a lot of root cause work with people?
Megan: I do.
So, let’s define – what do you mean when you say root cause? And then I’m going to tell you what I mean.
Josh: Well, a root cause really comes from—actually, it really goes back to the 40’s, believe it or not, with W. Edwards Deming, and his quality control system. At Toyota, they use something called the “5 Why’s” which is basically a Deming strategy. And the purpose of asking why and why and why and why is to peel the onion back and get to the root cause. So that’s what they call root cause analysis. And it’s something I encourage people do is to get to that real why, so they can go back and look at the what and make sure they’re actually doing the right thing.
Megan: Absolutely, so yes. I have two phrases. One, I borrowed from Michael Port which is “most business problems are personal problems in disguise.”
Josh: Oh, I love that.
Megan: Yeah. And it’s oh, so true. And the other phrase that I use a lot is “There really are never any bad people, there are usually bad processes.”
Megan: What happens is people start telling stories in their head about why isn’t something working. I like to ask things differently. I like to say, ”Wait a minute, forget that Mary doesn’t show up on time. Forget that the phone doesn’t work. Forget all that. Let’s pretend like we’re building a business from scratch. How would we want it to work? Let’s start with the end defined. And then let’s start peeling down the layers and figuring out why whatever’s coming on here, isn’t working. What is the reason? What is the causation?” Because there’s so many moving parts in a business that sometimes it’s as easy as changing the way that the call tree on the phone operates. But instead of getting to that simple root cause, they’ve been telling stories for months about the phone system and how inadequate Mary is answering the phone and blah, blah, blah. Really, they just needed to change the call tree.
Josh: You know, it’s so true that if we stop trying to blame the people that work for us and look at the systems as being the problem, we’re going to be a lot happier.
Megan: Absolutely. Who wants to be part of the blame game?
Josh: I used to be in the vending business a zillion years ago and we had a poster in our office – all over our offices, actually. In the top was responsibility with a line and below was “lay blame and justify”. We used to talk about “above the line” and “below the line” behavior which actually brings me to a question, where do values – personal business owner values fit into this whole process of building relationship and engagement in a business?
Megan: Huge. It’s one of the first things that I start when I work with a business owner. You’ve known business owners who say one thing, right?
Megan: “I want my employees more engaged. I want to improve my retention. I want to have a happy place to work.” And then everything that they do, every action that they do is exactly the opposite. And it’s because they really don’t value those things at a core level. They think it’s a good idea from a business strategy but they don’t really value it.
Our businesses are a reflection of who we are. They are a reflection of our values. And if we’re not clear what those values are and they aren’t top of mind, our business is going to reflect that.
Josh: So, when you first start working with someone, I’m going to bet that you spend a lot of time on values. What specifically do you do to help your clients figure out what their core values are?
Megan: You know, I wrote a series of exercises years ago called the “blank canvass exercises” because I’m an artist in the weekends so I like blank canvases. And it’s really just a series of values clarification exercises. And I make them do it. And then I make them do something else, I make them actually rate, as a hierarchy, their values – their top five values. Because we forget that if we don’t rate our values in a hierarchy – all values are not equal. So, if you value family time and you value financial security, for example, and you’re building a business and you’re working a lot of hours, you’re going to feel some internal dissonance because your family time’s probably suffering. If you understand what the hierarchy is, then you understand how to begin to evaluate your actions more specifically.
So, exercises, discussion, rating, and then monitoring. You know, we all get out of integrity at times, right? We all get busy. We all—something happens. If you are monitoring your values and I have a tool that I use with my clients, that they actually are doing what I call a “second look”. They’re going looking backwards, every Sunday night, “Where am I on my value grid? Where am I on my high impact activities? How effective was I last week?” And that top of mind exercise really helps.
Josh: That’s a great recommendation. I’m going to repeat it because it’s so important. If you own a business, Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening comes along, spend a half an hour or an hour and look back at what you did last week and look ahead at the next week. It’s going to make you way more effective.
Megan: So important. If you start Monday morning with a clear head, with a clear path, and you have a really good understanding of what happened the previous week and you’ve learned whatever you need to learn from that, you’ll be able to start your week in a much more focused intentional way.
Josh: Megan, unfortunately, we’re out of time.
Megan: I can talk to you all day, Josh. This is so much fun.
Josh: Yeah. This has been really fun. Thank you so, so much.
I’m going to bet that folks who are listening to this podcast episode, or at least some of them are going to want to get in touch with you, how would they do that?
Megan: So, you can e-mail me at email@example.com or you can do it the old‑fashioned way which I always like and just call me 216-704-6568.
Josh: Great. I’m sure Megan will be more than happy to have a call if you have some other questions about what we’ve talked about. This has been an incredibly valuable episode because it actually talks about what you need to do first to create a truly sustainable business.
So, thanks a lot for listening and I hope to see you back here soon again.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.