Most businesses have relationships and employ people specifically to manage them. The dialogue with clients and customers is frequent and mostly fruitful.

But we live in a highly competitive commercial environment where the bar has never been higher. As a result, we must always challenge with the question ‘Could we do better?’ This includes the optimisation of relationships (rather than simply managing them).

Is there a gap between where the relationship is and where it could be? Are there examples of excellence which are not being captured and put to good use elsewhere? Even the closest relationships, like the finest musical instruments, can slip imperceptibly out of tune.

The now famous success of Team GB cycling in the London 2012 Games was founded, in part, upon Sir Dave Brailsford’s obsession with optimisation, via a process which delivered the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.

In other words, we might only be talking about a 10% improvement but it could be THE 10% which makes the difference and provides the all-important competitive advantage.

A valuable contribution here can come via third party expertise, both in talking to the parties to an existing or desired relationship and in helping train relevant skills where they are lacking.

Experience strongly indicates that key parties can find it easier to be more candid, expansive and specific when temporarily relieved of the personal bonds and practical demands of a relationship. In some cases that very personal closeness prevents important details surfacing at the appropriate time for fear of awkwardness, embarrassment or distraction.

In this way, the truth can be established with an immediate impact upon behaviour. Also, the appraisal process can itself be a value-add and a differentiator – it can refresh the authenticity of the relationship.