On Working with Senior Stakeholders

This is the one single thing that can really expedite your growth (or obstruct it) in your corporate career.

Working with / Managing senior stakeholders is difficult. Really difficult. And PMs ( even junior ones) have to do it all the time.  Have gone through a lot of mistakes myself and I am still learning, but here are a few things I have learnt on the way –

Establishing a relationship at the beginning

When you begin working with a senior stakeholder (could be your own boss, head of a function/ CEO) – that’s the time to make a good start and set yourself up for success.

Get to know them

half the battle is won if you can make a tailor made approach to working with your specific stakeholder.

  1. Check their linked in
  2. Read their blog if any
  3. Ask specific questions about their background (whenever you get a chance to meet over a social event/ whenever you see the right opportunity)
  4. Understand their current role and challenges.
  5. Understand their goals/ objectives: this will help you talk in terms of that, present your case in those terms and work backwards to craft your messages.
  6. Understand their working style – do they prefer daily updates / or once in 2 weeks ? It is ok to ask what works for them, how to best utilize their time.

Introduction meeting / First few 1-0-1 meetings.

If you haven’t, please go ahead and setup a proper intro / 101 meeting with your stakeholder and try to accomplish the following –

  1. Introduce yourself & your strengths – this would make your stakeholder develop an initial confidence in your capabilities and talents. You may / or may not get 30 mins to talk about your background – but you would need to find opportunities to demonstrate / talk about your past and strengths you derive from it.
  2. Request an introduction: When you have introduced yourself, you can say something – “would be great if you could share bits of journey too” and let the stakeholder talk. Ask questions – show your genuine interest in his /her experiences and interests.
  3. Clarify expectations – by discussing them openly / what are his / her expectation from you and your team (if any).
  4. Negotiate the support you need – be clear about what would work best for you and what wouldnt. Would help you set the right expectation.
  5. Find common interests on which you can spend time and build personal rapport.

Delivery / Work related Meetings

Prep

  1. Make sure you have the right understanding of the agenda before you head into the meeting.
  2. You should take these meetings as performances. Prepare your inputs well.
  3. Think of potential battles/ questions that would come up. Prepare your responses in advance.
  4. Know which battles you are ready to lose and which ones not.
  5. Try to present in a way that battles you are ready to lose come up first and then the difficult ones which you don’t want to lose. ( this is a very tricky and takes a lot of practice J ).

In the meeting

  1. Set expectations to begin with – that you would be presenting a summary and then the details.
  2. Start with a quick 2-5 min summary- so that the impatient senior stakeholder gets it one go. Getting straight to the point is super important.
  3. Follow up with details
  4. Listen Well.
  • This one is hard and takes a lot of practice. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective.
  • Go beyond words and try to understand their real problem.
  • Observe body language, observe indirect signals.
  • Proper listening is a study and science of its own – pay attention to this one.
  • Be open to feedback. Don’t defend too much.

5. Answer Well –

  • As directly and briefly as possible. Don’t try to provide too many details, unless asked for. Senior Stakeholders are insanely busy & a bit impatient to get to the answer they are looking for. So get straight to it.
  • Don’t provide an answer if you aren’t really sure. Ask for time if required.

Growing the relationship: Build & Preserve Trust – single most important aspect.

Over time, there is a reputation / image your stakeholder will develop about you. This is the one thing that would decide your future opportunities / role / growth in the company.

  1. Keep Promises
  2. Don’t Overcommit
  3. Be responsive to their asks / emails / phone calls.
  4. Do frequent check-ins to stay in sync / ask feedback / share feedback (when possible).
  5. Demonstrate your competence when an opportunity arises.
  6. Demonstrate high level of integrity – take responsibility for mistakes if any and show steps to fix them. Continue to work on the highest level of rigor.
  7. Share updates when you know that they can be useful, even when no one has asked. This helps stakeholders develop a sense of confidence and transparency.
  8. Last but not the least, build your personal rapport – Don’t miss opportunities to travel together. Colleagues can be made friends outside the office (not inside).

 

Do remember that beyond a point functional skills don’t matter as much, soft skills do. So take this one really seriously and share your experiences and feedback too

Parting thought – Working and building relationships with senior stakeholders is hard work, effort needs to be put right from introduction to every meeting as well as casual meetups over lunch / travel. Plan this time as an investment into the growth of your career.

Resources

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