Thursday, January 11, 2007

ROA = Return on Affection?

I'm reading Tim Sanders' new book, Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. For those of you who don't know him, Tim's worked as an executive at and In his book, he talks about the value of, well, being valuable. As an aside, I'm always struck by books that espouse what I'd thought was obvious -- like the Warren Buffet booklet of CEO secrets that explained that you could determine the worthiness of a potential customer, vendor or employee by how well they treated the wait staff at lunch or dinner (lesson: mean people really do suck). But, I guess it becomes a business fact when someone can prove that they can make a lot of money and still not be a son of a gun.

In his opening chapter, Tim recounts a story of a poor sod who, "wired for war" as he was, sought to destroy the competition as well as the "friendlies" in the business only to be sliced when that sword cut the other way -- left out of business dealings requiring creative problem solving and trust.

It gets hard to believe that there can be a Return on Affection in the business world. The Donald-Rosie-Barbara dust-up shows three very powerful (and very rich people) making ratings hay about a lot of nothing. We sit transfixed waiting for the next installment. Donald's stance: if some one's mean to me, I'll return it 10 times over. Rosie's being Rosie ("comic" with a mean edge and a bright smile) and Barbara seems to be playing both ends against the middle. The Apprentice is being taught in business school to a new generation of potential power players who think this is the way money-makers act and years from now will be wondering how they ended up divorced with children they don't understand and who don't respect them?

Sitting across the table at b-Java, my local coffee haunt (where the staff is under strict instructions from Garland not to give me caffeinated java, dammit), a friend shared with me a conversation he'd had with his boss: in a performance review, his boss had asked another staffer where he wanted to be in 5 years. The staffer didn't know. My friend thought this was a telling point about the staffer, but I found myself wondering about the boss. Coaching and support of employees comes from affection and regard as much as anything else. Helping chart the course with someone who's clearly struggling to figure out where they want to be would have been an incredible kindness, helping to secure that employee for the longer term. People, in many cases, don't have career aspirations because they think they're in the eddy currents with no place to go.

Keeping valuable relationships, now, is as much about being willing to put ones self out for another. It's too easy to let someone flounder rather than making an offer to help. However, in the example with the staffer (yes, there's stuff in this story I don't know, but it serves as illustration), the cost of losing him to another company with a boss who gave a damn could cost upwards of 30% of that staffer's annual salary to replace and train another person.

It costs not to care. However, the example of The View/Donnybrook, makes it hard to believe it.