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July 29, 2016

3 Strategies for Building Strong Stakeholder Relationships

3 mins read

Love them or hate them, stakeholders as business analysts or project managers need you to work with them. Beyond that, your goal is to build strong, positive working relationships leading to successful project conclusions. Base these relationships on respect, trust, and an understanding of each other’s work and roles.

As soon as your project begins, start developing relationships. Start with three strategies to create the foundations.

1. Research the Stakeholder

You’ve probably researched the organization and general project but don’t forget to research your stakeholders too! Begin with roles, time in roles, and any available info from your predecessor. Google and LinkedIn searches offer previous career info, blogs and articles they’ve authored, places they’ve been quoted, even information about their other interests. I find this helpful in finding ways to connect on a personal level, such as a common sports team.

Following background research, I’ve conducted stakeholder interviews for a UX project to identify stakeholders’ work styles, priorities, and specific project responsibilities. These interviews could easily transition into an official stakeholder analysis and map if appropriate to the project.

Research strengthens your overall understanding of the organization and its goals, resulting in fully realized deliverables. You also learn your stakeholders’ true needs and can plan to work effectively with them.

2. Meet in Person

If possible, meet stakeholders face to face. You hear tone, see expressions, and learn body language. UCLA studies found “up to 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues” and actual words determined only 7% of a performance’s impact. Even if you can’t meet in person regularly, an initial meeting provides basic personality and tone knowledge for future emails and phone calls. If you’re remote, video conferencing and Skype can help bridge the gap. Your stakeholders also judge you, making assumptions about your knowledge and professionalism. You have 7 seconds to make a first impression. Your trustworthiness is evaluated quickly, within a tenth of a second.

On a recent project, my team was remote, although in the same city. I immediately arranged to visit and spend future software releases onsite. I demonstrated my commitment and subsequently, we had a better understanding of each other’s emails.

A quality, face to face interaction connects you with stakeholders and builds essential trust and respect.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Set up a regular communication pattern. Whether weekly in-person meetings, a set teleconference, or scheduled emails, your stakeholders should know when you’ll provide information and expect feedback. This doesn’t eliminate unscheduled interactions! Those interactions accomplish time-sensitive tasks and answer quick questions. They also grow your relationship naturally.

I set up a standing weekly meeting with one very busy stakeholder. While we tried to talk as needed, no matter how crowded her weekly schedule, we always had one opportunity for a project briefing and feedback.

A combination of channels and timeframes is ideal for facilitating constant communication with your stakeholders.

Your purpose is an effective collaboration with stakeholders to meet project goals. Take the first step towards that outcome by building strong foundations for your working relationships. Try these tips and let us know what has or hasn’t worked for you!

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