“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’ 

By Kevin Vaughan-Smith, Joint MD, Mutual Value

As I reread this quote from Jim Collins’ classic book, it highlighted my own experience working with so many clients.  It’s not that they don’t want to be great in terms of building client relationships, it’s just that they are so busy being good at it. This means they don’t make the time to adopt the new and better behaviours that would make them great and, as a result, differentiate themselves from their equally good competitors.

Cartoon about a war

This well-known cartoon is another way of looking at typical behaviour. So many of us who know that we have a war on our hands – we are competing in increasingly turbulent markets for the trust of our clients – and yet we stick with our tried and trusted sword and armour rather than being willing to consider a better alternative.

Some of this behaviour is easily explained.  As Jim Collins says, we are already good – we have achieved our level of seniority and rewards by adopting our current behaviours, and the thought of moving away from those behaviours can be threatening.  Any change carries risk, and unless we have come to a solid conclusion that the risk is outweighed by the potential rewards, we are unlikely to adopt it. 

So, we need to be open to consider a new paradigm about the potential benefits of adopting a change in order to consider it.  But there is a mental barrier that we need to overcome:  confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias: the big barrier to change

Confirmation bias – the ability of the brain to be selective about the data and information it selects to support its current belief systems – is actually a powerful inhibitor of change, especially if we hold strong beliefs that have apparently served us well to date.  As Henry Ford said “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. In other words, once we believe something, we find the data to prove we are right.

So, when the King goes to war and wins, even at considerable cost, presumably he reassures himself that wasting time on ‘bright ideas’ could have cost him his victory.  Or when we go out and win a competitive RFP without having spent time on building relationships beforehand, it reminds us that to grow we need to answer more RFPs.

Too many of our relationship behaviours fall below the bar of ‘Great’ – you can see this when you consider how many businesses are heavily reliant for the majority of their profit from a tiny minority of their clients, or when so many projects fail to meet client satisfaction and supplier margin goals, or how few suppliers feel they are truly strategic to their clients.  And yet we see clients continue to chase business in the same old way, because everybody else does it that way and it’s considered a ‘Good’ outcome.

How to tackle it

So how to break out of good and move to great in terms of relationships? 

  1. Work hard to establish what it’s worth to the business and most importantly to the individuals who need to adopt the change
  2. Define the new behaviours
  3. Train and coach the new behaviours
  4. Recognise, celebrate and reward the new behaviours and secondly the results they achieve

Sounds simple. Of course these are big shifts which require time and investment. However the prize is great. Literally.

By being really clear on the outcome and the behaviours you need, providing support and training and then celebrating success, the opportunity is to break out of merely ‘good’ and differentiate your business as truly ‘great’ at relationship building.


Does this resonate? If so, let’s have an open discussion about what this might mean for your business and what difference it would make for everyone to act as a trusted partner to your clients. 

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Let's have an open conversation about the value this can bring to your organisation. Contact to arrange a free video call with Stuart Maister or Kevin Vaughan-Smith.