This post is part of my series called "Soft Skills for Hard Time; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess". My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from within and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.
In the movie the Godfather II, Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, says that his father taught him to "keep his friends close and his enemies closer".
I think the point he was trying to make is that we need to build effective relationships with others. In particular, we need to be attentive to building relationships with those we don't consider our friends, who don't like us or we don't like, those who are different from us, or those who intimidate us.
Think about the spectrum of people that you interact with on a regular basis. At the highest level, you have the ones that you like and the ones you don't like. Of that second group, you have people that you don't know very well, people that you are sure don't like you, people that are too busy too spend time with you, people that are self-focused and disinterested in you and your success, and the people who for any reason seem to send out a signal that says "please go away and stay away". (BTW, I used to send those signals myself.)
It is natural for us to spend the majority of our time with people we DO LIKE and that LIKE US and to avoid or spend no time with people that we DON'T LIKE or DON'T LIKE US. While it might be natural, this may be the exact opposite of how we should approach relationships.
In the past year, I worked for 3 different companies and led 2 different projects and 3 programs. With the exception of two people, every resource on those 5 teams was a brand new relationship for me. I am probably unique in terms of project managers. But I think I know something about building stakeholder relationships and doing it quickly and effectively. I make relationship-building a priority because it is critical to my success.
I still struggle though when it comes to building relationships with certain people. I put them last on my list when returning calls. I dread my next interaction with them. I grind my teeth when they speak up at meetings. My stomach turns when I see their caller id on my phone.
The Godfather knew what he was talking about when he said to 'keep your enemies closer'. I admit that I struggle with this but I do know the way out - we need to invest in those relationships that are difficult. This means to invest in getting to know the people that are tough instead of avoiding them.
There are a couple of tools that I use to help with this - a strengths and weakness assessment and a stakeholder matrix. I will talk about strengths and weaknesses in an upcoming post. Read on for more information about using a stakeholder matrix.
The stakeholder matrix is a helpful way to collect and organize information about our team, sponsor, key contributors and any other stakeholders involved in our projects and programs. Some of the key pieces of information I recommend collecting includes:
The key benefit that I see in the use of the matrix is to keep us honest. By putting it together in one place, we can get a clear view of the state of our relationships. When we begin to look across our projects and programs and compare our relationships, we can see the patterns where we have inconsistencies in relationships. Sometimes we think we do a good job with all our relationships, however, without some sort of tracking mechanism, we don’t really know.
I often have workshop participants complete the stakeholder matrix as an exercise. Inevitably, they are surprised at how little they know about specific team members or other stakeholders.
You can download a blank stakeholder analysis template from my website here. Use it to catalog your current relationships and identify those that are in the most trouble or are the most challenging to build. Then, one relationship at a time, take steps to address those relationships that are hardest for you or in the worst shape.
- Download the stakeholder analysis tool and complete it for your current project or team.
- Identify those relationships that are difficult for you and what it is that makes them difficult. It is because people don't like you, they avoid you, you are intimidated, or they are too busy? Try to be as specific as possible. Rank order the relationships from best to worst.
- Pick just one of those relationships to start with and make an investment. There are plenty of posts on relationship building here on this blog to give you ideas. But the simplest way to build the relationship is to spend some time with the other person.
- Treat your relationship building efforts as a game. Give yourself points every day when you do well and deduct points when you don't. Have fun with it.
Please stop back and post a comment about your relationship building struggles and successes.