How to Effectively Manage Stakeholders
Head of Product at Permutive
I recently joined a startup, vibrant but somewhat chaotic. While it is a single-mission company focused on solving a very specific problem, different people have different opinions on how to achieve this. As I was speaking with different stakeholders I was surprised to learn about different, often conflicting goals, they had.
I particularly had a hard time dealing with one stakeholder. Not only our backgrounds were different, but our mindsets and personalities were unalike. His idea of software development could be summarized as, Please deliver this by tomorrow or we will miss the opportunity to sign a contract of 100 000 pounds. At the same time, he would dwell on difficulties and complexities within his department lacking empathy about problems other stakeholders would encounter. He would be very pushy to get his things done downplaying our efforts and using metaphors of rocket science, repeating why they are not solved.
Understanding the other side
When I speak to other people I try to understand where they are coming from and adjust my approach to match their background, communication style and/or needs. For example, when I am speaking to people from Sales or Marketing I try to avoid engineering jargon and explanations from an exclusively engineering point of view. Instead, I would make sure to tie my explanation into what they would be driving forward.
People can endlessly argue about their petty differences, but they can also find a common ground and align around that. For example, we both aligned around the company’s revenue goals. What we do is fairly irrelevant as long as we are moving the dial toward our revenue. If I would want to provide an argument for introducing a new feature I would refer to revenue; for example, This feature will drive higher value for the company.
Building a strong feedback culture
I strive to build a strong feedback culture that allows everyone to share their opinions and set their boundaries. I wanted this person to hear my feedback, reflect on my constructive criticism and understand how it aligns with our common ground. For example, I would -- without any berating or belittling -- advise him to approach the engineering team with more empathy and that approach could help him achieve his goals better/faster.
Expose them to the better
As a product leader, I have the privilege of always being in the midst of things, attending all the important meetings, and being informed about upcoming plans and projects. People from other departments would often have a more narrow perspective as a result of their more isolated position. Having more context at hand allows me to explain to them why they are not getting what they want or why priorities are not as they would prefer.
- Keep fostering strategic relationships with all stakeholders across the company. It is not going to be easy and turning uncooperative colleagues into allies won’t happen overnight. But it is a process worth investing yourself into.
- Don’t be discouraged if your efforts don’t yield results immediately. Any relationship, including the one with stakeholders, is like growing a plant. It takes watering, but it also takes time.
- Most people are not intentionally disagreeable. All they have is a different perspective.
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