12/17/2013 12:42 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

This Holiday Season, Prioritize and Personalize Your Strategic Relationships

Each year, the holidays bring an occasion to pause, reflect and refresh your strategic relationships. Unless you are in the retail sector, your business obligations likely slow down as your colleagues spend more time with family. That gives you a fantastic opportunity to make time for introspection about your strategic relationships. Each year, I use this slightly slower season to achieve three goals: I reflect and prioritize my contacts, I update them and I express my gratitude.

Reflect and prioritize.

Every year, I reflect on which relationships were directly instrumental to my success. I think about which relationships were influential in my success. Because I was in their circle or they were in mine, awareness for my brand and my work grew. I am grateful for these people, and it's time to let them know.

Equally important is reflection to prioritize strategic relationships for the coming year. As you think about the year now coming to a close, consider three types of relationships:

  1. Stagnant: Who did you ignore or leave under-served this past year? How will you show them they are a priority in the year ahead?
  2. Maintained: Who did you invest in last year, and how will you continue to invest in them going forward?
  3. Elevated: Who have you done the foundational work with, and now need to take to a higher level?

I learned long ago that "what gets measured, gets managed." You're not going to improve your relationships in any of these categories if you don't make time to reflect on how you performed in the last year. Once you've done that, set goals for the coming year -- and commit to those intentions. In other words, work those goals into your calendar, your to-do lists, your time management system.

Update contacts.

Once you've reflected on the relationships that matter, it's time to touch in. Do not abdicate your communications to technology. In the last week I've gotten dozens of automated emails, many of them asking me to update or confirm my contact details. That's not what I'm talking about when I say "update contacts." I mean let them know what they've meant to you; let them know what's new with you. This is not the season of email blasts -- it's the season of gratitude. That requires a personal touch.

It's time to restore value to the whole holiday greetings production. A printed card with: "Best wishes for the holiday," and a company's logo stamped inside means little. After the organizational "fire drill" of getting them out, what happens? They decorate a receptionist's desk. It's an impersonal ritual with very little impact. And those digital holiday greetings are even worse. They either get caught in spam filters or they add to the recipient's overload without compensating with anything of value.

Even those companies that send an update of their accomplishments seldom achieve the impact they intended. Don't tell me all the great things your corporation did -- tell me something personal. Mention how your family is doing. Tell me how you have grown this year. Tell me something you did that had a positive impact. Show me how others are better off because of you.

Express your gratitude.

Once you've prioritized which relationships to contact with an update, decide your communication channel and your message. I like to send personal notes letting people know the impact they have had on me.

Here, less is more. Reduce the number of people you communicate with, but make your contact with them more intentional. Send handwritten notes and personalized gifts. "I really enjoyed spending time with you this year, " or, "I'm so glad our paths crossed" -- that's the kind of message that conveys impact. Who do you want to make aware of your gratitude? Who should know that they are priorities with you for the year ahead?

This isn't about a pay-off for you or your business, but you will see a return on impact. Expressing your gratitude to the people who have been instrumental in your success creates awareness. When your value is visible to others, you'll be remembered, which makes it more likely you'll repeat or better yet elevate the impact you have on each other in the future.

This time of year, there is so much noise that your efforts can easily get lost. To communicate, you have to think differently. Personal handwritten notes are nice. If you don't have time for that, make phone calls. Think you don't have the time? Consider how much time goes into sending out those impersonal corporate holiday cards. Spend that time in personal contact instead. Send a note, or get on the phone, or if you're local, host a small gathering.

Bulk email or cards are one-dimensional. They carry very little impact. Conversations are two-dimensional, because you can convey sincerity and genuine interest. In-person contact is three-dimensional because you can connect people to each other. The holiday party generates gratitude, awareness, and very likely, a connection when opportunities arise.

This year, be more intentional about the relationships you choose to invest in. And when you connect, do it with a personal touch.

Nour Takeaways:
  1. Take time to reflect and prioritize relationships to repair, maintain, and elevate in the coming year.
  2. Don't let technology take the place of a personal touch when you update the people who have directly impacted or influenced your success on what they've meant to you.
  3. Communicate in the richest way possible that conveys your gratitude. Your effort will be returned in awareness and being remembered when opportunities arise.


David Nour is an enterprise growth strategist and the thought leader on Relationship Economics® -- the quantifiable value of business relationships. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics -- Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact (ASAE). Learn more at