THE BLOG
10/25/2016 07:14 am ET | Updated Oct 27, 2016

Results & Relationships: Lessons from the Pool

Wegmans has been called the best supermarket in the United States. Southwest Airlines has delivered a profit for 43 consecutive years. USAA is ranked as a financially strong company with off the charts member satisfaction while also being a great place to work.

When you look at these companies, you see differences in products, services, and strategy. You will also see that these industry leaders know that consistent results never occur in a vacuum. They value and actively embrace the crucial role of relationships in delivering results.

An Encounter at the Pool

Iwa (pronounced Eva) and I met at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii. I kissed her, rubbed her stomach, and played with her underwater during our morning at the pool. It was an amazing experience and not what you think. Iwa is an Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin and part of the Dolphin Quest program.

Dolphins in the wild do not allow humans that level of human contact or perform on command. So what motivated Iwa to make a customer ecstatic and the owners of Dolphin Quest look like heroes?

The easy answer is fish - the preferred currency for dolphins. Iwa and the other dolphins are on the ultimate pay for performance plan. They deliver the expected performance and they receive fish. But there is more than simple behavior modification at work here.

Dawn, one of the Dolphin Quest trainers, told me that the trainers work on two things every day - the performance that customers see and the relationship that fuels trust between dolphin and trainer. She said the time devoted to each is about equal, and everyone recognizes the benefits of focusing on both.

There is More to the Story

Fast forward about eighteen months. Approximately 600 people are in attendance as I talk about Iwa during a presentation.

A gentleman about twenty rows back on my left side almost leaps out of his seat when he sees the photo of me kissing the dolphin. At the end of the presentation, he rushes to the front of the room to talk about my experience.

"Hi, I'm Jay Sweeney, President of Dolphin Quest. Iwa is my dolphin," the excited attendee says.

After a few pleasantries, Jay offered to tell me the "rest of the story."

Iwa, he explained, came to Dolphin Quest at the age of 25 - rather late in life for a dolphin to enter their program. She had previously been in three similar programs.

When asked if that was normal, Sweeney said that Iwa had been labeled as a poor performer in each of the other programs. Basically, she had been fired for having a bad attitude.

The Real Reason Iwa is a Star

Sweeney said that the relationship between dolphin and trainer - not the fish received after each activity - is the key motivator of outstanding performance. The dolphins at Dolphin Quest are well fed. A few pieces of fish during the course of the performance do not make the difference. Iwa became and continues to be a star because of the time and attention the trainers at Dolphin Quest give to building and maintaining a relationship based on trust.

It Works with Humans, Too

Picture a teacher, mentor, or coach who meant a great deal to you. Did that person expect more of you or less of you? Did you do more or less to meet her/his expectations? Was your commitment based on the person's position or the strength of the relationship?

How are you investing your time and resources to grow that partnership? Is it an important part of your routine or something that happens when the mood strikes? Are you actively building and sustaining trust? Are you developing performance that makes others a superstar in the hearts and minds of your customers?

Your success, in the end, has less to do with products, services, and strategies. It depends on your ability to leverage strong, positive relationships into partnerships where every person at every level is committed to delivering amazing results.

Wegmans. Southwest Airlines, and USAA know and embrace that truth. It's time that you did, too.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email info@penningtongroup.com, or call 972.980.9857.

Randy Pennington has no financial affiliation with any of the companies mentioned.

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