Our relationships equal our success. As managers, our success is contingent upon getting the most out of the people in our organizations. Despite its importance, however, this concept is one management truth that is seldom taught in business school.

Therefore, it's little wonder that we do an incredibly poor job of building relationships in our professional lives. Our research finds that only one in 10 managers invests a great deal of time in building relationships with colleagues at work. As a result, only one out of 10 feels a strong connection to their company, peers, and the people who report directly to them.

The problem this creates for organizations and individuals is far reaching. Research clearly shows that the most productive, most innovative teams within companies are built on strong relationships. A manager's loyalty and that of his colleagues is strongly driven by the connections he feels with others at work. And even his happiness is in large part a function of his bonds at work.

Building a loyalty-driven organization won't just happen as a natural course of events. It requires questioning some current beliefs and changing some longstanding behaviors.

Self-improvement

Building loyal relationships professionally and personally should always begin with a valid self-assessment. Improving connections with others invariably begins with improving oneself as a leader, manager, and colleague. Knowing how one interacts with others is critical. Where do your loyalties really lie?

Most people believe that they are much more loyal - and therefore much more deserving of loyalty - than others perceive them to be. Therefore, being completely objective in self evaluation and the input gathered from others regarding perceptions of our loyalty is critical. But let's not kid ourselves either - this is very hard to do. As the author Aldous Huxley observed, "If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion."

Employees' perceptions of the organization

Organizational psychologist Rensis Likert once observed, "The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals." Unfortunately, virtually all of us sense a decline in employee loyalty in comparison with our parents' and grandparents' generations.

Collecting information on employee loyalty is simple. All it requires is a good survey process. The key is to provide a forum where employees feel comfortable sharing their real feelings without fear of a negative backlash.

Realize that while getting information on employee loyalty is relatively straightforward, meaningfully acting on this information typically is not. It requires assessing and adjusting the policies, practices, and procedures of the organization as well as the behaviors that get rewarded, supported, and expected with regard to relationship building.

The goals and dreams of your colleagues

No one goes to work to make someone else rich. While most people work in part because they have to do so to survive, they also want work to give them a sense of accomplishment.

Managers need to help those who report to them, and those with whom they work directly to get greater fulfillment from their work. But making this happen on a regular basis demands that they know what it is that leaves them feeling invigorated.

While the requisite tasks of any job won't always be fun, research interviews with tens of thousands of people from all over the world leaves one inevitable conclusion: our work can enrich our lives. And when we feel like we are part of something important either to ourselves or some greater cause, we are inspired to do more. And it is the role of every leader to find the cause that inspires others.

The blame game

We all know that saying, "There is no 'I' in team." But all too often, team members find their contributions buried in the spotlight shown on others for what should be a team victory. The best leaders, however, recognize that they look best when they help others be successful. In other words, they become winners by creating winners.

Unfortunately, many managers are slow to identify members of their teams except when it is time to assign blame for something gone wrong. Playing the blame game is the most corrosive acid known to relationships. The reality is that everyone fails, unless they never take risks. And a company that never takes a risk is a company that will fail.

Great managers know this to be true. They are generous in sharing credit, and when it comes to assigning blame, the buck stops with them.

Recognition

What you reward gets repeated. Every parent knows this firsthand. But how often do we really offer praise? No, we don't mean the general praise that in effect says, "Great job team, whoever you are." The reality is that general praise has no impact on people.

Instead, we need to make it personal. When was the last time you wrote a note of thanks in your own hand (a 60-second investment of your time)? The odds are that you don't do this nearly as often as it is deserved.

We need to get into the habit of finding people doing the right thing and then recognizing it immediately. By doing this, we demonstrate that we not only know but really appreciate these individuals in our lives.

The great thing about appreciation is that it doesn't just benefit the recipient. It benefits us as well. Psychologists have conclusively proven that expressing appreciation on a regular basis leads to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Loyalty matters

Leaders inspire the organization by walking the talk, and by doing so, they uplift their colleagues by harnessing the spirit and power of the people in their organizations to unite for a common cause.

The benefits are enormous. Productivity rises, creativity flows, and turnover drops - all from leveraging the power of relationships. And they win when they surround themselves with people they care about and people who care about them.