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Tim Sanders is concerned about your relationships. The former chief solutions officer for Yahoo! and author of Saving the World at Work (Crown Business) believes that strong relationships will drive business growth in the future – but only if those relationships are extraordinary.

Tall order? No doubt. But Sanders sees our society as shifting to a new model of responsibility, one in which shallow, meager relationships – with employers, businesses, clients and communities – won’t be sufficient to drive growth. CO-OP THINK interviewer-at-large Bill Prichard asked Sanders about his vision for a relationship-driven credit union industry. Here are a few of Sanders’ suggestions for gearing up:

  1. Give. When your members – or your employees – experience growth, your opportunities grow with them. Even better, if you’re a party to helping them grow, you’re cultivating the kind of relationship that wins loyalty and elevates your business.Doing this right means moving beyond the obvious. When Brian Sperber, president of the Phoenix International Raceway, decided to reach out to his community, he brought NASCAR drivers, videographers and an Internet expert together to create a free community-service video on defensive driving. The result? “Within a month, he began seeing new people at the track that before had never even heard of NASCAR in Phoenix,” says Sanders. Beyond sales, Sperber succeeded in connecting with his community in a new and meaningful way.Giving can take the form of employee mentorship, sponsorship of a community event or arranging small-business networking for business members. “I’m not talking about being financially generous, but emotionally generous – relationally generous,” says Sanders. “When you promote other people’s growth, they reciprocate.”
  2. Listen. “We have to show people more empathy,” says Sanders. “We have to understand that feelings are facts and become deeper listeners.” What he means: Addressing people’s concrete needs and concerns isn’t enough. “If we don’t create a strong emotional value proposition, we’ll find out that our business is shrinking even if we are winning on the numbers.”
  3. Employ. Simply providing staff with a paycheck isn’t enough. “We need to develop every person that goes to work for our company to be more competent at their job, more confident in their capabilities and more complete as a person,” says Sanders. “If we commit ourselves to making our people stronger, the whole ecosystem improves and the member feels it, not only in customer service, but in engagement, innovation and all kinds of things.”
  4. Inspire. “(We need to change) the conversation at work from losing to winning,” Sanders says. “One of the most important things we can do is to restore that feeling of momentum, that things are going to turn out right. We’ve got to create (not so much) optimism as confidence.”

Using inspiration, empathy, generosity and support to build your business is not a quick-and-dirty proposition, but neither are the benefits of doing business this way. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to leverage goodwill and create a fierce sense of loyalty where members wouldn’t do business with anybody but a credit union,” says Sanders. “But to make that argument, we’ve got to make a contribution first. I think the big contribution is to let people know that we’re listening, we’re customizing, we’re personalizing – we’re doing everything we can to improve the member experience.”