“He can be such a fuckwit sometimes! Honestly, he drives me so mad, I could strangle him!”
I raised my eyebrows involuntarily while struggling to keep a straight face. It was as much a surprise to hear Isabelle use a vulgar word as it was amusing to hear her description of Ryan. She was usually always so well mannered, and an epitome of professional conduct at work.
Yet, in my mind, I had to agree with her that Ryan was indeed hard work.
His role as Engineering Director and her responsibilities as Head of Product Management meant their work lives were inexorably intertwined.
In many senses, Ryan was one of her most important stakeholders. And they should have been dancing cheek-to-cheek in their work, in order to safeguard and nourish the company’s product lifecycle management.
I was the helping the company enhance its workplace effectiveness across its product pipeline. And a critical aspect was embedding a collaborative culture and seamless working practices between the Engineering, Supply Chain Management and Product Management functions.
The fractious relationships between the departments were unproductive. And the unspoken tensions and negative sentiments amongst some individuals were toxic and detrimental.
I knew Isabelle would never express such honest feelings in our group sessions. As often happens in these situations the one-to-one discussions I was having were a treasure trove of insights on the underlying issues, particularly how most individuals saw their roles and their perceptions of others.
Agents of innovation
I had been using these forums to help the product managers bolster their stakeholder management approach – they were central to the organisation’s prosperity, and it was crucial that they grasped their importance as agents of innovation and progress.
Product managers have a unique role to play in any organisation, balancing the demands and attributes of so many constituents: product design, user experience, technology, business value, etc.
They own the product yet don’t own nor control the varied elements that ownership entails.
They must marshal resources to deliver business outcomes, remembering that their output is the synthesized and optimized output of others: their core and extended product teams.
Consequently, to thrive and prosper as a product manager it’s imperative to fully absorb and appreciate others’ perspectives – especially when you consider that someone in a different position or job role from you could likely have a different point of view from yours.
“Product managers play a unique role in any organisation as agents of innovation.”
As I explain in Sweet Stakeholder Love, an organisation with different departments is somewhat like a house with different rooms. Two people standing in different positions in the same room are unlikely to have exactly the same views due to their differing vantage points. Those differing viewpoints get even more varied if the two people are standing in different rooms.
Sometimes we can be so resolutely locked into our own viewpoints or blinkered by our self-importance that we lose the ability to recognize that there just might be other views; our way may not always be the best way nor the only way.
The ability to truly acknowledge alternative points of view that others may hold is one of the strands of emotional intelligence, a vital requirement for healthy intra- and inter-personal relationships. It’s an extremely powerful mechanism that’ll aid your personal effectiveness as a product manager, particularly your ability to get a fix on your stakeholders first before pushing your own game plan.
Wellsprings of product value
Those alternative perspectives often hold hidden value and wisdom that can be easily missed.
That’s why great product managers always keep their minds receptive to the discernment of other views when dealing with stakeholders.
The best product managers deliberately endeavour to harness such possible wellsprings of product value and success; by constantly sowing fertile seeds of goodwill and nurturing a network of fans and allies amongst their stakeholders. They make the effort to cultivate stakeholder love.
They know that their success depends on their product stakeholder community; amicable stakeholder relationships make their lives sweeter as custodians of their products. That’s how they steer their product success through the organisational terrain with finesse and flair.
Whereas average product managers – though technically sound – routinely face all manner of organisational hassles with progressing their product agendas.
Great product managers, who are alchemists of product success, always leverage the power of human-to-human dynamics to get the best of their stakeholder relationships. If you understand your stakeholders as human beings – their perspectives, drives and motivations, for example – you’ll be much more able to shape your agenda to address their fears and their needs, and hence make your work more meaningful and relevant to them, and tap into every iota of support and value they can bring.
“The best product managers deliberately cultivate stakeholder love; amicable relationships make their lives sweeter.”
The alchemists of product success know that building interpersonal chemistry with individual stakeholders always helps. Stop for a minute and think about one of your difficult stakeholders – what do you actually know about them as a person?
Building interpersonal chemistry means showing an interest in them and getting to know them a bit on a personal level – perhaps, how long they’ve been in their job, a little about their career history, a bit about their home lives, how many kids they have, their personal interests outside work, where they went on their last vacation, the name of their pet orangutan, and so on.
As long as your interest isn’t driven by a desire for titbits of gossip, or your attention doesn’t make you come across as a prying and intrusive busybody, you’ll find that people in general appreciate others showing an interest in them or making an effort to know them. It’s one of the verities of life, and somewhat part of being human. We all like to feel valued, treasured, acknowledged, esteemed or loved. We want to feel that we matter.
Infusing sweet vibes
The need for attention and affection may be natural – we see it in so many places around us in nature. We see it in many animals where newborns instinctively seek out their mother’s presence, whether for warmth, protection, nourishment, comfort or reassurance. We see it in human infants who get unsettled or agitated when they temporarily lose maternal contact, but become less distressed or even tranquil when their mother returns. We see it in children in the garden or playground when they yell in delight, “Dad, Dad, look at me! Look what I can do!” We see it in our own adult behaviours at dinner parties and other events, where we gravitate towards people we know, almost on autopilot, or we warm to new faces who show an interest in us by smiling, talking or listening to us.
We humans are born with brains that are biologically hardwired to respond to positive strokes like care, kindness, interest or the warm acknowledgement of others. It’s in our groove.
And we’re more likely to hold positive sentiments of people who evoke the sweet vibes that such positive strokes typically bring. It’s just the way we roll, part of the fabric of life, recognizable in your own orientation towards those work colleagues and stakeholders who show you some love.
When you’re genuinely solicitous about your individual stakeholders, or interested in their stories, and you make a little effort to get to know them, you’re like an alchemist propagating the chemistry of positive interpersonal connections – connections propagated through the ages, helping to keep humanity sane; connections which in your own work context can only benefit you and, ultimately, your product.
It can be time-consuming, and just isn’t possible with every individual stakeholder in every situation. But it’s an endeavour worth its weight in gold.
“Great product managers always leverage the power of human-to-human dynamics.”
You’ll be astonished how a little bit of effort to create connections at an individual or personal level can spawn enormous improvements in stakeholder engagement and alignment; because connecting with individual stakeholders on a personal level fosters affinity – for you and your product.
Even basic things like learning to say “Hello”, “Thank you” or “Goodbye” in a foreign stakeholder’s local language can make all the difference to the chemistry of your interactions and how attuned they are to your product agenda.
Product management is a rewarding career in itself; discovering, developing and launching valuable and meaningful products is an inherently gratifying journey. Yet it can also be a complex and complicated role, as experienced product managers will attest.
Quite often, the complexity and complications are less to do with the technical elements of the products and more to do with the people on the journey: the senior executives, colleagues and stakeholders who are the fundamental creators or destroyers of product success. It’s nigh on impossible to win them over or fully harvest their potential value contribution without taking the time and effort to connect with them.
Great product managers recognize and draw on this, infusing it into their alchemy of success.
And so should you.
Leveraging the power of human-to-human dynamics in your stakeholder management efforts will always yield favourable outcomes for your product success, and for your personal brand.