You can’t win ‘em all peeps!! But–what I always remind myself and my team is that in the end it’s not about you, it’s about the project and the business. Every working relationship should start with a “you”, not a “me” mentality.
“So what YOU’RE saying is..”
“What is YOUR opinion on this?”
“I want to understand YOU better..”
“Tell me YOUR concerns?”
Get the picture?? You’re not in it….jk, you are…but as a business partner.
I treat my stakeholders as part of my team with the same objective of creating/developing a project that fits the business needs first and foremost. With teams, everyone collaborates, everyone creates, and everyone has a voice. Teaming up with my stakeholders has helped me navigate through some of those super fun conversations that occur mid-project when they need more, or less, and sometimes just want to throw in the towel. After you’ve spent HOW MANY HOURS developing their project?!?
So yeah, teamwork makes the dream work.
Umm…what do you do when you’re not ready to throw in the towel..(yet) but they are? Simple. Remember that it is not about YOU. Don’t take it personal.
If they’re asking for more developments it’s STRICTLY about improving the project to its maximum potential, not adding to your workload or changing their minds for the hundredth time just to spite you.
If they’re asking for less features it’s STILL just about the project and maybe some of the business budget. Seeing a trend yet?
If they’re throwing a towel at you, well…you suck… Not really, but putting yourself in their shoes and understanding that you both want the same result: a creative masterpiece, is a game changer when dealing with stakeholder politics. Those stakeholders aren’t out to get you, they’re out to get RESULTS. I encourage you all to take a step back and realize that more times than not IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S BUSINESS.
Respect & Understand
This one is pretty common sense guys. Respect goes a long way in any relationship, and business relationships are no exception. Get to know your client and what they need. It may not be in line with what you think they need, or know they need, but take the time to show them that you are listening and recognize that by delivering what they are asking for. Even if that means letting their ideas fail first. Yes it’s extra work, some would say pointless, but the reality is that everyone feels more comfortable working together through some of the failed attempts rather than coming in and saying THIS is what your business needs.
Remember: their business is their baby, and you don’t wanna go around telling a parent how to raise their baby…much less point out their flaws! Respect that everyone has different ways of nurturing a baby/business and that there isn’t a rulebook on “the right way”.
Listen, listen, listen!! Redundant I know, but there is a difference between listening and hearing someone talk. Like…, I could hear my kids talking (more like yelling) outside of my office right now, but I don’t really know what they are yelling about. (I’m hoping it’s Star Wars Jedi Training)…
Active listening requires focus and attention to everything that the client is talking about. It makes them feel understood especially when entrusting that baby to you. Through understanding is where we gain trust, and where we can share some knowledge or tips for what they need. In the words of Alfonso Bucero: “Nobody knows how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sharing is caring, but you can’t share until you care! Trust me, listening pays off and makes your job so much easier in the long run.
Determine Their Motivation
Specifically, determine the business needs. What does their business need? Why are you sitting here LISTENING to this client talk in the first place?! Meet those needs and they’ll remain motivated. Fail those needs, and they’ll throw that towel at you! So don’t fail…(no pressure).
Figure out their deadline goals, their spending budget, what is important to them about the project, how they like to communicate, who they report to (if anyone), and what they envision. If they have a smaller budget for the project, determine a few immediate needs that will greatly impact their business and present those to them. If they have shorter deadlines, have them prioritize what needs are most important to them and start with those. Keep them hooked people…you perform and they’ll keep coming back!!
Help & Support
Last but not least, help your client reach the end game goal. The reason they called you is because they have a goal in mind and little to no idea how to reach it–otherwise they wouldn’t have called you! Help them meet those needs and understand that THAT is your ultimate goal. Don’t try to change their goal, meet them in those challenging road blocks and provide solutions. Don’t let them drive off a cliff and crash! Instead, provide a road map and let them decide the direction they want to head. Kinda like a great co-pilot.
As a supporter, you must remain positive about their goals and cheer them on every step of the way (even on those uphill battles). Okay..maybe not cheer, but definitely get excited with them about their project. Get them excited about completing the project so that they remain interested and collaborative with you. Encourage them to be a team player and input their thoughts every step of the way. The more collaborative they are on the project the better and the faster the project can get done.
Communication plays a big role in this industry and while dealing with very important business leaders, it can be difficult reaching them for project concerns, even their project managers can be difficult to reach. Keep the communication flowing and continually check in on their thoughts so that the project manager feels like part of the team.
So there you have it..the secret to successful stakeholder interaction: KEEP YOU OUT OF IT! Simple, right?? But not too much…just enough. Like help them if they’re heading down a dead end, just maybe don’t tell them how to drive. Let them tell you where they want to go, and you help them get there. Give them all the route options and time estimations. Be open and transparent with them, and steer clear of any cliffs.
“Everywhere in life, the true question is not what we gain, but what we do.”