Richard Branson: How to manage business relationships

Business is all about relationships, which can be challenging at times. But, Richard Branson says that while opposing voices can feel disruptive, they can help you grow your business.

"For five decades I have run businesses based on a simple principle: If you look after your staff, they will look after your customers," the Virgin Group founder explains in a recent blog post. "Supporting your workers and keeping a close eye on team morale is absolutely vital to success."

So how do you deal with employees who question what you do and how your decision making?

"First, ask yourself: What could be done to rebuild these relationships? Could your team benefit from further training or development? What about more one-on-one time, or a shift in responsibilities?"

Richard Branson signing a wall

Richard experienced a similar experience when he partnered with Randolph Fields to found Virgin Atlantic. He found Fields’ approach was incompatible with Virgin’s. "We couldn’t agree on many things," he says. "From naming the airline (Randolph wanted to call it British Atlantic and nobody wanted another BA!), to the various license applications to the design for a proper ticketing system.

"I tried to carry on despite our differences but the senior team members started saying that they just couldn’t work with Randolph. The final straw came when David Tait, who was running our operations in the US, told me that he was resigning," Richard says, explaining that Fields was his reason for wanting out.

"I knew that the company couldn’t continue to function, let alone grow, with such a conflict at its core. So Randolph and I parted ways, while Virgin Atlantic moved forward. Ending the partnership was the best choice that I could make to strengthen relationships within our team, and to better position our business."

He adds: "The bottom line: All relationships need to be nurtured, whether they’re with your business colleagues or your family and friends. I’ve learnt this skill in the best possible way from my wife, Joan, who has been my partner for 40 years.

"We’ve taught each other to be honest and frank when we communicate, to give each other space, and to listen closely when there are things that we could do to make each other happier."

And it’s not significantly different when managing business relationships. Richard says: "Maintain good lines of communication; be willing to listen to other people’s points of view; and don’t forget that, ultimately, you need to be comfortable with your decisions."

One of the most important things to communicate to your team is that blame is unproductive, and Richard recommends emphasising the importance of all members taking responsibility for their actions and face up to the consequences. "If any of your employees are unwilling to work productively as part of a team, then you need to take action before morale is affected."

However, Richard admits that staff choosing to do things their own way can be beneficial for your company. “If everybody thought the same way, not only would it be a very boring world, but you’d have a very stagnant business. Diversity within the workforce is tremendously beneficial, and this extends to employees who think and operate in different ways.

"I surround myself with people who I believe are better than me in their specific areas of expertise, and then I get out of their way, delegate to them and try to give them as much support as possible."


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