Do you manage stakeholders or nurture trusted partnerships? Leaders in large organizations often need to work across their organizations to complete complex change initiatives successfully.  We often refer to this as “stakeholder management” or “influencing without authority”. 

But let me ask you this: would you like to be someone influenced without authority? When you look in the mirror, do you see a stakeholder to be managed or a human being with lots on her plate?    

What you have been seeking are reliable stakeholders, but what you need are trusted partners.

Today’s business world of rapid and transformational change calls for high interdependence within organizations to get things done.  But because we are all wrapped up in our own personal world of change, we often do not have the time or energy to build relationships effectively.  And we may even be so wrapped up in our own work challenges that it may not enter our minds to reflect on the relationships needed to get things done.

This is a big miss. With so many balls in the air, you will likely find the people you need most are not fully focused where you would like them to be.  

To turn this around, and to strengthen those critical relationships, try doing a Trusted Partner audit.  This easy exercise gives you a methodical look at just how strong the relationships are that you need most.

Step 1

Make a list of your top 5 to 10 key stakeholders.  These are soon to become your Trusted Partners.

Step 2

Create 5 columns next to their names. Using a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being highest) rate your confidence level in answering the questions below. Note: Right now you are not necessarily answering each question. But you may want to add a column for Comments where you can jot down what you think the answers are, today.  

What are their business priorities?  

Some of this information may be available through internally shared strategy documents.  But don’t stop there.  Look for opportunities for this person to share their perspective on the priorities.  The next time they are presenting at a meeting, listen with a new purpose of understanding what they are living and breathing each day.

What are their biggest challenges? 

Understanding your potential partner’s business objectives is a good way to start to understand their challenges, but what keeps them up at night may be more nuanced.  And it is likely to be much more about how they are experiencing those business challenges than about the key performance objectives themselves.  

What are they likely saying to their team about your initiative?  

If you already know this through other channels, take note of it.  If not, with a more complete understanding of your potential partner’s priorities and challenges, you can put yourself in their shoes. Think about what message they are giving their employees about the initiative you need their partnership for.  Try to release any judgment you may have about what that message is, in the event it isn’t what you would want them to say.  Remember, if you were in their shoes, you might say exactly the same thing. 

How supported do they feel by their boss?  

The main point here is to just stop and think about how this dynamic may be impacting your potential partner.  Because when we feel supported, we can move mountains.  When we don’t feel supported, or worse, if we feel vulnerable, we are much less likely to go out on a limb with our time and resources to help another leader.

What do you have to offer them?  

Finding the perfect olive branch to extend can really help build trust.  Just remember, though, that this is not about being transactional.  Do not offer help to someone and expect immediate reciprocation.  And if you sense that they may perceive any offer to assist as the start of a transaction, hold off until such a time that the offer comes more naturally.

Step 3

For those Potential Partners, you rated a 3 or lower, prioritize spending time with these people so that you can get to know them better. Start to uncover the information you need to start strengthening your partnerships.  Not all of the questions are meant to be asked directly. For example, questions 3 and 4 are more for you to reflect on and consider ways to get at the information through observation or other more subtle measures.  The main point of those questions is to raise your own awareness about how these dynamics may be influencing or undermining your efforts.  

Over time, you can reassess your confidence levels and do the exercise with additional stakeholders.  As you become more aware of the answers to these five questions, you will find new ways to engage with your stakeholders as Trusted Partners and improve your own business results.