July 2, 2012 | last updated July 2, 2012 8:08 am
The Rainmaker

The $28,000 lesson of the chickens: Relationships matter

Ken Cook

The new building is beautiful, as much as an industrial steel building can be beautiful. And Larry was very proud to show it off. We were standing outside the building shortly after Larry had moved his company from quarters that were much older and run down than their actual 60-plus years.

Larry's business is in the steel industry. It's a hard industry. However, the new space was Larry's way of upgrading the look and feel of the business. Part of the new look and feel was some rather spectacular landscaping. And here's where the chickens come into the story.

As we're standing outside the building, Larry pointed out a truck that just drove by. It came from the landscaping business that was Larry's neighbor just to the west. "They wanted to do all of the landscaping for the building but I wouldn't give them the business" Larry said. When I asked why, he responded — "chickens."

Larry explained that when they started the construction on the building, one minor nuisance were the chickens from the landscaper's property. The landscaper kept chickens on the property and let them roam freely. Since chickens don't understand property lines, they naturally roamed onto Larry's active construction site.

On numerous occasions Larry asked his new neighbor to fence in his chickens or in some way stop them from getting into the middle of the construction. The response was a definitive no despite repeated requests. It finally took a visit from the town animal control officer to get Larry's neighbor to comply.

Larry said "there is no way I was going to give him any of the landscaping business, even though he asked for the business and bid on the project". When I asked how much was spent on landscaping, Larry said $28,000. So, for the sake of some free roaming chickens, a $28,000 deal was lost.

The lesson here is not complicated. It is important. Relationships are not about business. Relationships are about people; business just happens to be a part of the dynamic. Separate the business from the relationship itself.

Larry's neighbor discounted Larry from the beginning. He ignored Larry's request and thought only about his chickens. Larry got his revenge by not giving the business to the neighbor.

Now let's play out this scenario with an alternative ending.

Larry asks his neighbor to stop his chickens from roaming into his construction site. Larry's neighbor views his new neighbor as a new relationship. He knows of the company, has heard of Larry, and wants to start things off on the right foot. He works with Larry to keep the chickens off of Larry's property.

In this alternative scenario, the relationship mattered and it mattered for its own sake. There was no immediate gain for the neighbor. The only thing Larry and his neighbor would gain from working out the chicken problem was a new relationship built on initial collaboration. They had an opportunity to get to know each other.

Build relationships for the sake of the relationships. Some may have immediate benefits. Other relationships may afford some benefits down the road. Still others may never afford a direct benefit to you. It doesn't matter. The ability to foretell the future is still beyond our capacity.

You never know when or if a relationship can help. What you do know is if you do not build the relationship today, the opportunity to help will never happen. Relationships are not deals. Relationships are at the core of what we do. Everything else springs from them.

Author Ken Cook is founder and managing director of Peer to Peer Advisors and developer of the Rainmakers System. Connect with him through his website at www.peertopeeradvisors.com.

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