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What can Boris Johnson's 'partygate' scandal tell us about business relationships?
February 9, 2022
As I write this the UK political elite are holding their breath. The Sue Gray 'partygate' report - heavily redacted - has landed on the UK Prime Minister’s desk.
Behind it is a story of Shakespearean tragedy, of betrayal, loss and a belief that there were one set of rules for the many and a different one for the few.
But, underlying this drama is a very real and all too familiar story of the complexity of business relationships, which can’t follow the simpler rules of personal relationships.
Maintaining a personal relationship is not easy, as divorce figures demonstrate. But this complex emotional state of coexistence can be reduced down to a few core values: honesty, loyalty, respect, space and time. No doubt a quick Google could add more but let’s stay with these for the moment. Some people make a living helping personal relationships get over the bumpy parts of the road and they seem to boil it all down to a binary concept: mutual trust.
Relationships are not only complex, they are fluid, buffeted by the winds of outrageous fortune, the unexpected, the unbelievable. Just look at how Hollywood has mined the human condition to create amazing entertainment.
To return to the tragedy in UK politics, then, we have a situation involving a set of relationships. The first relationship is between a Prime Minister and his team working to combat a pandemic. A relationship purportedly built on stress and fear, with a team that claimed to work long hours, sometimes through the night and became exhausted and isolated. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this led to the PM allowing some socialising and release.
But there were other, less personal relationships at stake. A relationship with the millions of people the PM and his team were telling to lock down and not see loved ones, even those soon to be lost forever. A relationship with front line workers fighting the pandemic, putting their lives on the line, often with fatal consequences.
Relationships aren’t easy. A modern business relationship is the exact opposite of engineering logic. In today’s modern car the services are few and far between, the annual oil change and tyre check. Built to just run and run, hassle free. We see this in many services as digital transformation replaces fallible and unreliable human touch with the algorithm of consistency.
These modern transactions, made in milliseconds, still require mutual trust. Each needs to know the other party in the transaction will be given what was promised, whether that’s money, data or an image.
Modern human business relationships are never binary. They are so much more complex than that. The range of stakeholders, internal and external, with differing agendas create a matrix. Constantly navigating through this are the marketing teams and their marketing services suppliers.
Aprais has been measuring how well these parties have been doing for more than 20 years and although we have seen the ebb and flow of different issues it still seems to come back to those two words: mutual trust.
In a recent report, based on a behavioral analysis of our data , entitled Seven behaviors that set the best client-agency relationships apart from the rest we see trust remains the most-valued behavior when agencies score their clients and it continues to increase in importance. But clients scores of agencies on the trust behavior are declining. Ten years ago trust topped the rankings, these days it’s ranked third. Mutual trust is under threat in our business which is a key issue for client retention.
Back to the parochial issues of British politics, when Boris made the fateful decision to strengthen his relationship with his team, allowing them to cope with their stress by partying into the night, he also broke a relationship he had with many millions of people he was elected to lead, his clients. He broke a bond of trust that allowed him to ask for more from them. To put on hold millions of personal relationships for the common good.
Rebuilding that trust will take a long time, time he may not have. So, it’s always better to keep that trust, not trash it, keep the trust, rather than search for and build another one, with all the risk and uncertainty that entails.
Keeping mutual trust alive is a key part of our business and a key part of our client’s success.