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The Power of Purpose: Exploring Transactions vs Relationships

Guest Column | Originally Published 2023 | Published with permission


Abstract: With nearly four (4) decades of experience in Reliability, Maintenance and Safety in my rear-view mirror now, I’ve gotten to pondering about what have I actually learned. What has been my purpose? For those who don’t know me you can learn more about my career pathway by visiting my LinkedIn Profile. In short, I’ve been a practitioner, consultant, educator, author, businessman, mentor, and thought influencer (don’t like the term ‘Leader’, sounds too cocky).


Given all this ‘wisdom’ (polite term for dues paid in years or the state of being ‘old-er’), what have I really learned?


My Observation: There are Two Types of People


One thing I’ve learned is that no matter the industry that we work in, there are primarily two types of people:


  1. Those whose purpose is to complete a quick transaction and

  2. Those who are more interested in maturing trusting relationships.

I know this is a broad swath generalization, but reflect on your own career and the people you have interacted with, which buckets do they fit into? If someone were to ask your peers about which bucket you fit into, think about what they would say (and why)? In reflecting over my career, I think I started out focused on transactions as a young man out of school, in an effort to climb the proverbial ladder, step-by-step and gain some experience and credibility. However, as I got older and owned/co-managed an international family business for decades, I was squarely focused on the relationships I fostered over the years. My clients, partners and contractors became my personal friends and practically family. The relationships with them were more important to me than any single transaction. These relationships are the greatest benefit I have received from my entire career…PERIOD.


While that may not have made me a financially wealthy man, I have always felt it did make me a rich man in terms of those trusting relationships I now have with thousands of my friends around the world today. That is what made me realize that my true purpose was to help others, help themselves.


I didn’t solve their problems for them, I taught them how to solve their own problems and provided tools to help. They knew the root causes and solutions; I just showed them how to get that knowledge out of them.


Certainly, I understand that many will say a person can do both, and they are right. However much like we see on the front lines every day in the field, tradeoff decisions have to be made hourly between balancing safety and maximizing production.


We must do the same with transactions and relationships. Many will use transactions just as another rung on the ladder to rise to perceived wealth/power, or will we focus on our relationships even when there may not be an immediate financial benefit for us (if any at all)?


I have found that in all the 50 years we were in business (our family business), we focused on building and maturing relationships. This was instilled in us by our father, Charles J. Latino, who founded the company in 1972. We gave away our time and resources, more than I can remember, when folks couldn’t afford them…but they had an immediate need, so we helped them out.


There were too many instances to cite where it was more important to us as a family that our reputation be based on helping others. We knew our benefit would come down the road when the person/people we helped were either in higher positions in that same company, or they had pursued other opportunities at another company. Either way, they remembered those that had empathy and compassion for them at a time when they needed it. They remembered those that believed in them when others in their own company did not. They then ‘paid it forward’! That’s when I knew our true purpose as a company was to help others…some would simply call this Karma!


EXPLORING TRANSACTIONS VERSUS RELATIONSHIPS


This may seem like a boring topic, but I hope the principles I explain hit home for you.


A ‘transaction’ (noun) for the purposes of this paper is:

  • the act of transacting or the fact of being transacted.

  • an instance or process of transacting something.

  • something that is transacted, especially a business agreement.

Transactionalists (as I refer to them) are people’s whose primary goal is to execute a transaction with someone else.


  1. A transaction is simply an exchange (not a relationship)

  2. It may be they want to sell you something (business transaction), where they first determine the ‘need ‘and then see if you ‘qualify’ to be a sales target worth their time.

  3. It may be they need your one-time help (social transaction) to accomplish a self-serving purpose of their own.

  4. They tell you what you want to hear to increase the risk of closing the transaction. Once the transaction is complete, they hand you off to others to execute the transaction.

  5. Selective memory often sets in with transactionalists when it comes to executing details of promises made. Then when lengthy legal documents are written (and the fine print), the written word does not match the verbal promises made and it becomes a ‘he said/she said’ discussion and left to respective memory recollections.

  6. Transactionalists are typically interested only in the short-term perspective to quickly close a single or initial transaction, making their books/wallets looks better in the near-term.

Hands coming from a computer screen; one paying with a credit card, one handing a shopping bag
Figure 1: Transactional Expression

A ‘relationship’ (noun) for the purposes of this paper is: a state of connectedness between people (especially an emotional connection).


Those interested in relationships are primarily and genuinely interested in helping you attain your goals as an individual or a group.


  1. Relationships imply a balance, a give and take, a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and perspectives. If we agree, wonderful. If we don't, that's OK too. We work through it to return the balance. To the extent of what we know, we trust in another (Ron Butcher quote).

  2. While relationships may involve a transaction, that transaction is an initial step to accomplishing a much larger objective for all involved (i.e. – career planning, long-term capital projects [TAR], helping justify business cases [internal sales & marketing] for future projects, helping others find new opportunities, using contacts to help others fulfill a business or personal need, etc.)

  3. Relationships often mature regardless of whether a financial transaction occurs or not. There is a genuine and trusting relationship where assistance will be provided based solely upon the strength of the word as their bond, as opposed to their pocketbook.

  4. If a transaction (i.e. – a sale) occurs and circumstances warrant another party to execute the next step, the initiator still follows up to ensure the next step was carried out to the customer’s expectations.

  5. Lengthy legal language (usually written for other lawyers to read) is not necessary to cover every eventuality that could exist, because the parties trust each other enough to openly and fairly resolve any uncovered eventuality.

  6. True relationships last a lifetime, where your customers become your friends, no matter where you work or what you can do for each other business-wise.


Illustrated people helping eachother climb a wall.
Figure 2: Relationship Expression

To summarize these points:


Table 1: Transactional vs Relationship Contrasts

Ron Butcher (see LI Profile) states, “I found myself wondering if this topic isn't yet another pathway in the analysis of how an obsession with the quantitative hasn't come at the expense of the qualitative? I may have a little tunnel vision there, but I have seen the obsession with "data" (good, bad, irrelevant) either freeze or inhibit progress toward improvement because, instead of supporting, informing, and perhaps even educating decision makers, the data (good, bad, irrelevant) drives those decisions”.


I find this myself given the younger generation and the technology they have grown up with. There is a heavier reliance on only data, and less a reliance on the human interaction. For instance, I see this in hospitals where younger doctors are often content to make an initial, working and/or final diagnosis, based strictly on patient data (the medical record), versus listening more to the patients themselves. I’m not assigning blame, I’m merely citing how technology impacts our educational systems and draws differences between older and younger generations.


Same goes for younger engineers and technical professionals, where their tech education made them used to and content with designing, creating and analyzing based solely on data review, versus the more social science (human) approach of actually talking to the people in the field who operate and maintain the equipment and/or management systems in place. Seems like were gradually removing the human interaction element from our day-to-day lives.


Perhaps this is related to era of the cell phone, social media, COVID-19 social distancing and the like, where our socialization skills have been quickly and consistently eroded. I’m not an academic or a therapist in these areas, just an observer in the field. But my experience is that I’m seeing more transactionalists now, perhaps resulting from more reliance on only data, and less on interacting personally with the human beings.


Let’s look at this principle from a marketing perspective these days. This quote from Tech Target that I found seemed fitting to express as a marketing principle:


“Transactional marketing uses mass marketing and promotion to make sales, while relationship marketing uses personalized marketing and builds customer relationships to make sales.”


The old saying goes “everyone wants to buy, but nobody wants to be sold”. When you want to buy, do you prefer being sold by the transactional approach (robo-marketing), or do you prefer relationship selling?


As stated, I recognize there are a lot of shades of grey between tranactionalists and relationship builders, but I’m primarily trying to focus on principles to make my point. There is no ‘right’ answer on the balance between these two types of people, but we can aspire to recognize the difference and be resilient when trying to find that ‘right’ balance of the scales for ourselves personally or in our working worlds.


Graphic image of a scale
Figure 3: Balancing the Scales Between Transactiions and Relationships

I’ve spent my career drawing distinctions between proaction (Reliability) and reaction (Maintenance) and there are plenty of shades of grey there as well. Most of us can conceptually agree that in a perfect world, we would certainly rather be proactive. If we were more proactive, we would have less reason to react. Unfortunately, that is simply not our reality most of the time. Most of the time we are too busy reacting, so we don’t have time to proact (pursue opportunities).


This brings me to my over-used quote of:


“We NEVER seem to have the time and budget to do things right, but we ALWAYS seem to have the time and budget to do them again!”


Another well-known parting quote that is applicable here is:


“Give a man a fish [transaction] and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish [relationship] and you feed him for a lifetime”


Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism


In your experience, do you find you deal with more transactionalists, relationship-builders or a hybrid of both? Can you spot the differences? In your opinion, what prevents/deters transactionalists from transitioning to being relationship builders?


About the Author:

Robert (Bob) Latino is currently a Principal at Prelical Solutions, LLC. Bob and his family are the founders of Reliability Center, Inc. (RCI) a 50-year-old Reliability Consulting firm specializing in improving Equipment, Process and Human Reliability, that was acquired in 2019. Now Bob and his brother Ken founded Prelical Solutions, LLC just to be able to work together, have FUN and continue to help others.


Bob has been consulting with his clientele around the world for over 38 years and has taught over 10,000 student analysts. Mr. Latino is author or co-author of ten (10) books related to RCA, Reliability, FMEA, and/or Human Error Reduction. Bob can be contacted at blatino@prelical.com or www.prelical.com


Contributing Author:

Ron Butcher has 30+ years in the public and private sector as a global high-risk Operational Safety & Health Expert. He lends his expertise to Fortune 500s as well as SMBs. Ron finds thoughtful solutions that address people, performance within the work environment.

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