Many product managers struggle with sustaining a solid platform in their roles and across the wider organisation, even when they have a formal mandate for the product management job.
There are often several reasons for this. Typically, one of the prime root causes is product managers not getting much love from stakeholders across the organisation.
The issue of stakeholder management has plagued product management folks since birds learned to fly. And some product managers still go home most days feeling like they’d like to stick a thousand pins in voodoo dolls of a few stakeholders. Others feel like crying out to their stakeholders, “Please, please, show me some love.”
But you never get true love by begging, nor by coercion. It always comes from how you make the other person feel.
The more stakeholders feel that the product agenda is meaningful to their needs and priorities, the more the product manager’s efforts will be deemed relevant and accorded prominence across the organisation.
This is less about the positioning of the product management function in the organisational structure and more about its positioning in stakeholders’ consciousness, i.e., their perceptions of product managers and the product management brand.
It’s a common issue I see in varied organisations when helping clients enhance their workplace effectiveness for their product pipelines.
Perceptions of your brand
I often remind product managers that their stakeholders are working for the same P&L and balance sheet as the product management function. And stakeholders are important because they have a stake in the product agenda – not least as internal “suppliers” and “customers”.
As suppliers, they supply inputs to the product vision and strategy, and actions to turn the vision into reality. And as customers, at the very least they receive the ultimate fruits of product success via the organisation’s prosperity, which benefits all employees.
Life is created in each moment. Every moment a product manager spends interacting with stakeholders is an opportunity to create a delightful supplier or customer experience, and nurture productive relationships – thus building positive perceptions. Imbibing the tenets of supplier- and customer-centricity to your approach as a product manager is an invaluable aid to engaging and aligning stakeholders effectively; it helps position your product management brand favourably in their psyches.
Influencing stakeholder perceptions as such is an inherent aspect of credible product management success. And as I explain in Sweet Stakeholder Love, it matters tremendously – especially in the modern-day workplace where perception can be more important than reality.
Many stakeholders are territorial about their areas of responsibility; or they clamour for things that are seemingly impossible; or they’re sometimes just plain cantankerous with product managers. And at times developers, engineers, salespeople, product designers, marketing folks, senior executives, etc. can seem to be the bane of a product manager’s life, goading him/her closer and closer to the voodoo dolls and pins.
Yet in my experience, most stakeholders will welcome you and embrace your efforts as a product manager if your work will generate positive impacts with minimal pain.
But they must be convinced of the value of their engagement with you in the first place.
No need for voodoo
Positioning yourself and your product management brand effectively is about creating the favourable perceptions that establish that conviction.
It’s a sure-fire approach to winning over stakeholders and engendering seamless collaboration that supports your product agenda.
This doesn’t mean you should take it for granted that you can have all of your stakeholders eating out of your hand all of the time. You mustn’t.
Yet what you can be sure of is that you have an avenue to leverage that will greatly amplify your chances of success with stakeholders – in getting what you want to achieve with them, through them or from them.
There is no universal panacea to the challenge of managing stakeholders. I know from personal experience that it’s never a piece of cake. I’ve often been tempted to use my own voodoo magic powers to cast spells on a few stakeholders during various work initiatives. But that’d be unscrupulous.
Besides, perhaps it might have been me who needed voodoo spells cast on me!
It can be so easy to become too focused on, or critical about, others’ behaviours and forget that our own inclinations and conduct are key ingredients for successful stakeholder relationships.
Sometimes our discord with stakeholders is simply rooted in divergence of views or differences in personality. And it’s easy to fall prey to our primal instincts to attack others or defend our perspectives resolutely. But humans have another primal emotion called love. Love is sweeter when it’s spiced with positive vibes, mutual respect and understanding.
So rather than resorting to voodoo spells, it’s much more fruitful to try to understand individual stakeholders better and grow the rapport, even if you find their views parochial.
Feel the love for rich returns
An “organisation” is a collection of individuals pursuing a common purpose in an “organised” manner. Every individual has a role to play. Understanding the factors that compel individuals’ behaviour is crucial in engaging stakeholders successfully. And emotional intelligence, empathetic listening and persuasive communication are central to such interpersonal interactions. Don’t rely entirely on logic, data, job title or your bucket-load of features and benefits to win stakeholders over. If you really want to feel the love, you must also connect with individual stakeholders as fellow human beings; you’ll be amazed how a little investment in fostering camaraderie at a personal level will massively improve your stakeholder relationships.
This is particularly vital in many large businesses where organisational politics and power plays are inescapable realities.
If you think political dynamics and other similar undercurrents aren’t at play in your own organisation and impacting your product and work progress in some measure, you may be grossly mistaken.
Because all organisations are political to some degree.
Dealing with the myriad of political manoeuvres or seemingly irrational behaviours stakeholders sometimes exhibit – especially at senior levels – can often feel like a distraction. And it is, in many ways.
But, like it or not, it’s also the story of organisational life, the very context and ecosystem within which products and product managers vie for prominence and support.
So the more adept product managers are at handling such organisational dynamics, the more effective they’ll be at building affinity with stakeholders – it’s simply part of the recipe for cultivating stakeholder love, something all savvy change agents do, including the best product managers, who are worthy agents of innovation and progress.
You are one of them, aren’t you?
Top-notch stakeholder management is a prerequisite for product success. The investment you make here will yield rich returns; not just for the product management brand, but also for your own personal brand, your work success, and your ultimate career growth.