JFH

05 Apr 2018

118. STRENGTHENING TIES

Building relationships with those working internally must be a priority when you join as manager, starting with those who have most influence and experience. Who can help you to succeed, what are the reporting lines in the organisation and how will you communicate with those up and down the chain of command?

Words: Mark Procter

With so many people to speak to and so little time, it may be difficult to know where to start when looking to develop relationships and strengthen ties in your new role. Preparation and planning is, therefore, essential in order to identify who your key stakeholders are and how you might gain support for your plans.

A stakeholder is anyone with an interest in your plans, so they include decision makers, people making recommendations, those whose support you need to implement your plans and those who are impacted by them. A stakeholder map, which plots each person according to their relative influence and support, can be particularly helpful here, as it allows you to visualise this wide range of people and see which relationships you’ll need to strengthen as a priority.

INFLUENCE AND SUPPORT

When we think about influence in an organisation we tend to think about ‘positional influence’, reflecting seniority in the reporting line. There are other forms of influence, though, and in complex organisations it can be much more subtle. For example, some people may have ‘expert influence’, which comes from being a respected professional with experience; ‘gatekeeper influence’, from holding the key to a scarce resource such as money, facilities or people; ‘personal influence’, when people have a powerful energy or enthusiasm; or network influence, which comes from having great connections.

The other element you will want to assess early on is the relative support that you have from each stakeholder on a scale from resistant to neutral to supportive. How supportive someone is may be influenced by history – for example, if they were vying for your job or if they were closely aligned with the previous manager – or they may simply disagree with your ideas. While it may be tough to completely win the support of someone who is actively resistant to your plans, you should be able to strengthen your relationships with most stakeholders to at least a position of neutral.

Plan your strategy for building relationships carefully, because you’ll need to reach a critical mass of people in the organisation who are at least neutral before you can make progress with your plans.

INFLUENCE

Often the most difficult, but important, relationships to build are upwards to the managing director or chairman and here your influencing skills will come into play. There are some simple rules of engagement to remember, which are useful across relationship-building situations.

When you are trying to influence someone, you are aiming to get commitment, not compliance, from them because, as the saying goes, ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still’. Commitment is where the other person wants to do something for their own reasons, so you’ll need to approach influencing situations with a ‘win-win’ mindset, thinking about what’s in it for them. That means, before you try to get your view across you need to engage with the other person and understand their reasoning.

PLAN YOUR APPROACH

Building strong relationships with key influencers and decision makers won’t happen on a whim; it takes careful planning. First you will need to know what your ideal outcome is. You may not be able to get everything you want from an initial meeting, so that outcome may simply be to get to know the other person better or to develop an agenda for a future meeting.

You will then need to understand the other person’s reasoning; try to see the situation through their eyes and consider what’s important to them?  What problems do they have and what’s on their priority list? What might their opinion of you be and why? Think also about their personal style – whether they make snap decisions and are to the point or slow and pondering – and their preferences for communication. Where and when are they most likely to be receptive to your ideas?

Next consider how you might both be able to come away from the meeting with what you want. Think about any issues and problems they may have and how your ideas might help to alleviate them and lead to mutual success.

Finally, you will need to engage them and then handle whatever comes up as flexibly as you can. It is essential that you try to build rapport with them from the start, so look for any common ground you have personally or professionally. It can help also to match their personal style, while still being true to yourself and avoiding mimicry. Even the simplest attempts to demonstrate that you are with them and understand them will start to build the right climate for strengthening ties.

When you meet someone in person anything can happen, so the ability to think on your feet, be flexible and stay true to your own personality is key. By planning ahead, though, you are more likely to come out of such situations having achieved your desired outcomes.