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.
- Check their linked in
- Read their blog if any
- Ask specific questions about their background (whenever you get a chance to meet over a social event/ whenever you see the right opportunity)
- Understand their current role and challenges.
- 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.
- 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 –
- 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.
- 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.
- Clarify expectations – by discussing them openly / what are his / her expectation from you and your team (if any).
- Negotiate the support you need – be clear about what would work best for you and what wouldnt. Would help you set the right expectation.
- Find common interests on which you can spend time and build personal rapport.
Delivery / Work related Meetings
- Make sure you have the right understanding of the agenda before you head into the meeting.
- You should take these meetings as performances. Prepare your inputs well.
- Think of potential battles/ questions that would come up. Prepare your responses in advance.
- Know which battles you are ready to lose and which ones not.
- 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
- Set expectations to begin with – that you would be presenting a summary and then the details.
- 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.
- Follow up with details
- 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.
- Keep Promises
- Don’t Overcommit
- Be responsive to their asks / emails / phone calls.
- Do frequent check-ins to stay in sync / ask feedback / share feedback (when possible).
- Demonstrate your competence when an opportunity arises.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.