IT Credibility Challenge #6: Stakeholder Relationships
You can be doing a fantastic job, but if some of your key stakeholders either don't know about it, or have an incorrect perspective about your work, it can be a huge block to your credibility and your success.
It is the role of any executive to both do their job and build personal credibility and you cant build and maintain credibility without personal relationships. Relationship building is one of the most important things you can do. Its not about publicity, its about effectiveness. Its about capturing and maintaining the broad base of support you need to do (and keep) your job.
In earlier articles in this series I discussed that IT is often misunderstood, and that it is important for the CIO to be the one to bridge the "understanding gap with the business counterparts. But even after the gap is bridged, ongoing, consistent communication and relationship building is critical to maintaining the credibility you have built by aligning your priorities, budget, support processes, and IT plans. Unfortunately, there is no technology solution for building relationships. And doing a complete job of this can be tricky.
Here's the basic approach:
You have a desired outcome of making sure all of your stakeholders are informed and have a positive view of what you are doing and delivering.
You then need a specific action plan to make it happen.
You need to be clear about who your stakeholders and influencers are, and then make sure you are communicating with them on a regular basis, in a way that is consumable for them.
Heres how to get it done:
Know your audience - You need to have a clear view of who all of your stakeholders are. This is worth some special focus if you have not gone through this exercise. The usual suspects are your boss, the CEO, the CFO, the LOB managers, the Board, your external partners, and employees. Its different in every environment. Consider yours and make your list.
Consider both your stakeholders, the people that depend on you, and influencers, the people who dont have a direct dependency, but can still choose to either support you or make your life miserable by undermining your plans, your budget, or your compensation.
What is the current impression of IT? - First you need to find out what they think. Take the time to have discussions with each stakeholder and understand what their impressions and issues are. This is not about having a strategic business discussion about what IT should be doing, just getting feedback on the current perception of IT.
Here are some questions you can ask:
▫ What is your impression of IT?
▫ What do you think is the most important thing that IT delivers today?
▫ Are there things that you think IT needs to fix?
▫ What is your experience in getting IT support?
▫ Do you think we are under-investing or over-investing in IT?
If you are considering sending on online survey instead of having a conversation, I would caution that you are missing the point. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with the people who matter most to your success.
Decide what you want to be known for - This is a great exercise to do with your team. As you review the feedback you got from your stakeholders and influencers, you can then talk about What do we want to be known for?
This is important to do for a few reasons:
If you are intentional about what you want to be known for, lets call it your team brand, you can create behaviors and measures to reinforce it consistently. You will be able to assess the gap between where you are now and where you want to go. You can create specific team behaviors and communications that will fill the gap.
This is a very good team building exercise. Do you want to be known as the technology guru whos, innovative, reliable, responsive, business savvy? Get very clear about this. If your team all agrees on your team brand, you have created a framework for them to deliver a consistent impression.
Build a stakeholder communication plan - Once you define who your stakeholders are and what you want them to know about you and IT, for each person or category, determine what the right communication is. You should consider the scope of what they worry about, and their personal preferred methods of communication, and make sure to reflect your team brand in all of your communications.
For the CEO, whatever the communication is, it shouldn't be more than one page or a 10 minute meeting. You will get credibility just by not asking for a long meeting. Perhaps an informal drop-in once per month works with your CEO. The CFO will want cost benefit information. Deliver a concise cost/benefit report once every quarter whether it is requested or not. It is also a good idea to have coffee with the CFO once a month. This is an important relationship to handle personally.
The line of business people want to know about their business. Don't give them lots of IT performance metrics. Give them a snapshot of what they most care about and buy them lunch. If you do this you will likely end up with a combination of meetings, phone calls, meals, informal personal discussions, e-mails, and concise regular reports that contain meaningful information specific to each of your audiences.
Execute your plan - Once you develop your stakeholder communication plan, treat it like any other plancommit resources, track it and mange it. It helps to assign the creation of specific reports or general communications to people on your staff, and to get your assistant to specifically put meetings and mailing schedules in your calendar.
This will fall off the plate if it is not managed and scheduled, but youll find that it wont cost a lot of time once its up and running and the benefits are huge.
Dont leave your credibility to chance. Decide what you want to be known for, and then develop a communication plan to build strong relationships with the specific stakeholders in your world. This is one of the most critical and impactful things you can do to steadily build your credibility and your base of support.
For further reading on the CIO credibility topic, please see Patty's other articles in this series:
If you are interested more information and templates to build your Stakeholder Communication plan you can get Patty Azzarellos CIO Working Guide http://www.azzarellogroup.com/what-we-do/business-communications.html.
Patty Azzarello became the youngest general manager at HP ever at the age of 33. She ran a $1B software IT management business at the age of 35 and was a CEO for the first time at the age of 38. She has been working with