Spend much time talking with me or reading my blog and you’ll quickly learn two things about me.

The first is that I believe strongly in the importance of relationships. Recently, presenting before a student group at the University of South Florida, I said that knowing how to connect with other people is the single most important skill there is—and I really do believe it! Just look at my personal tagline if you don’t believe me: Relationship. There is no substitute.

The second thing you might learn about me is that I’m a big believer in the idea of culture. Every company has its own culture. For that matter, every individual has his or her own culture—but we’ll get to that topic another day. For companies, the corporate culture is what dictates success in marketing, sales, product development, innovation, customer service—it’s everything.

Building a Relationship-Driven Culture

All of this begs the question: How do you bring these two important forces together? How can a company cultivate a relationship-driven culture?

While I don’t think there is any blueprint or one-size-fits-all approach to building a culture, there are a few basic things that I’d recommend for all companies looking to put relationships at their center.

  • Value the opinion of your team members. If your staff members believe that their voices are heard and that their opinions are valued, your company is going to do better. It’s as simple as that. People are going to have a lot more confidence to innovate, to solve problems on their own, and to invest themselves in the health of the company. Besides: If you don’t honestly care about what a team member has to say, then why did you hire that person in the first place?
  • Hire wisely. Many companies try to impose culture on their employees through “team-building exercises” and the like. I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of team-building activities, but I do think it is important to acknowledge that much of your cultural formation is going to come during the hiring process. Hire people based on their attitude, their willingness to learn, and the way they mesh with the values of your company. You can teach skills—but you can’t teach that other stuff.
  • Think about your decision-making process. Honestly assess yourself as a business owner/manager/CEO: How do you make decisions? Do you usually go with the consensus among your team members—or ignore it? If you’re ignoring the consensus, then do you just think you’re a lot smarter than everyone else in the room? Maybe it’s time for a reality check—or a smarter room of people.
  • Focus on strengths. Your job is not to fix your employees’ weaknesses, and you shouldn’t try to build on those weaknesses. Hire for strengths. Play to strengths. Forget about the weaknesses, as best you can.
  • Ask questions. Need to know how to do something, how to find your way out of a problem, or simply what your staff thinks about a given scenario? You need to be vulnerable enough as a leader to ask some questions and be serious in engaging the answers. Don’t rely on guesswork. Ask.

Will following these steps lead to an amazing, relationship-driven company culture overnight? I doubt it. But I do think these steps will point you in the right direction—and it’s a direction worth heading down.