If you are responsible for large and complex relationships, there will inevitably be times when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Perhaps that is putting it mildly. Many people I speak to who are playing a key role in strategic alliances or supplier relationships are finding it extremely tough at the moment. For many, having a reasonable relationship would be a major improvement.
When things start to go wrong it is easy to get lost in the detail. The frustration caused by lack of delivery or unexpected costs keeps people focused on fixing (or fighting) the symptoms. Sitting back and reflecting on the quality of the relationship as a whole doesn’t generally happen until it gets to breaking point. By which time bad feelings, bruised egos and a multitude of other problems have to be dealt with too.
Instead of waiting until this point, what you could do is establish a regular quality review. This could be based around the themes of high-quality relationships which our research identified a few years ago. The three themes evident in all complex relationships which were working well are:
- Trust and Credibility: The confidence that you can rely on each other to match delivery with expectations at both a personal and a professional level. Trust forms the strengthening foundation of all good relationships, without it people become suspicious and cautious.
- Communication and Influence: The confidence that everyone is able to clearly state their views, opinions and ideas with an equal opportunity to influence others. This is the practical day-to-day working of the relationship; how business is done and any failings here can quickly lead to bad feelings of powerlessness.
- Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution: The willingness and ability to face the difficult issues and work to move things forward in a proactive and constructive manner. No relationship is perfect and often agendas naturally conflict. Without the skills, ability and motivation to sort things out, relationships easily get stuck.
These three themes build on each other. In order for the problem-solving to be working, there must be high quality communication, which in turn is usually only present when there are high levels of trust.
If you are interested in learning more about how we do online assessments of complex relationships, please get in touch. Otherwise, try this at your next team meeting…
- Express your wish to dramatically improve the quality of a specific relationship which your team are involved with.
- Motivate the team to open up and get involved during the meeting to identify actions which can be taken to improve the relationship.
- Share the information above about the themes and discuss each in turn, asking for their views and opinions on what is working and not working within the relationship (relevant to each theme).
- While doing the above, try to strive for specifics and keep discussions positive (or at least neutral).
- When appropriate, draw the meeting towards actions. Based on the discussion so far, what action can be taken to begin to improve the relationship? Drive towards keeping responsibility within the team. What action can they take? What can you do? Avoid the team deciding on action that others need to take.
- Make clear decisions about what additional action you will take on behalf of the team, perhaps by taking certain issues up to senior management.
- Re-motivate the team and gain commitment to the actions agreed.
Remember, you don’t need to have a relationship in crisis for this to be a useful and periodic exercise. In fact, why just restrict it to your team? Get the other side of this relationship involved too.
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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Other articles by Colin:
Mapping Your Stakeholders
Having a list of stakeholders is a good start; but to get a sense of the priorities, you need to understand their position relative to your Influencing Goal and to each other. That way you can begin to see the bigger picture and develop a clear strategy to accelerate towards your goal.
Using the Stakeholder Influence Map (below), the general idea is that you plot the name of each (impactful) stakeholder based on where you think they are in terms of
With simple frameworks and processes, this is about taking a careful approach to your work as an influencer, and making sure you achieve economy of effort and create maximum movement towards your goals. Once you know what your strategy needs to be, the actions become straightforward and easier to execute.
Being Secretive and Hiding Inconvenient Truths
Why on earth would you want to keep your stakeholder in the dark? Well, that is my starting position because of my belief that to maximise success, you should proactively pursue open and honest communication, even with those who oppose you.
This topic arose on a workshop a few weeks ago. The group were reviewing their experience of using my Stakeholder Influence Process (see Chapter 13 of Advocates & Enemies. When we analyse stakeholders, one of the dimensions under