Stakeholder management is one of the biggest factors in your success in product management. At the same time product managers frequently tell me that it’s one of their biggest challenges. The most powerful foundation for managing stakeholders is building strong, positive relationships with them.
To help think about what this means in practice, I’ve developed the “CREDiT” model to encapsulate the essentials of stakeholder relationship management. CREDiT stands for:
The Yin and Yang of building strong work relationships is highlighting Commonality and honouring Difference. No two colleagues see eye to eye on everything, and yet there’s always something you have in common that you can build on.
One way to build commonality with your stakeholders is to spend every evening together at the pub, but you don’t have to go that far. Simply highlighting what you already share can go a long way.
A 1994 study (Aune and Basil) conducted on a college campus demonstrated the impact of referring to commonality before asking for charitable donations. When those asking for donations started their request by saying: “I’m a student here too,” they more than quadrupled their success.
One quick and easy way to put this into practice with your stakeholders is to refer to the goals that you have in common before you talk about your differences.
Honouring difference simply means acknowledging another’s contrasting point of view, and treating it with respect. This is the opposite of demonising someone when they disagree with you. Sometimes merely re-stating the contrasting point of view, and asking “did I get that right?” can defuse an otherwise fractious and unproductive meeting. It shows your stakeholder that you’re listening, and trying to understand where they’re coming from.
The ability to understand where they’re coming from relies on extending Empathy.
There are two types of empathy: cognitive and affective.
- Affective empathy is when somebody else’s emotional response triggers those same emotions in you. Like a mirror or a contagion.
- Cognitive empathy is the ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective, stepping into their shoes, like an actor would.
Both are useful in building strong work relationships, but cognitive empathy is essential. You need to be able to see the world from the stakeholder’s point of view in order to do your best work with them. Doing stakeholder interviews is a great way to build that picture.
In its most cynical form reciprocity is giving someone something so that they will feel good about you, or give you something in return.
A colleague from my BBC days named Sam does something that he calls “pre-emptive niceness” when he’s competing with another group for a resource and senses that they’re gearing up for a fight. He’ll walk over to that group (it’s important that it’s done face-to-face) and volunteer to give them a resource that they both value, but is of less value to him than the big prize. Then when they’re bathed in the surprise and delight of that unexpected gift he’ll ask for the thing he values more, and almost always get it – shockingly, without seeming to generate any ill will!
Of course, generosity to your colleagues strengthens your relationships even more powerfully when you’re not angling for a quid pro quo. And these “gifts” don’t have to be tangible. Reciprocity can be set in motion by giving help, recognition or simply showing an interest in what they did over the weekend.
Trust is built by demonstrating credibility and reliability. Credibility means you know your stuff. Reliability means you do what you say you’re going to do. Repeatedly.
Trust develops over time. It’s no wonder that people have their most trusting work relationships with people they’ve worked with the longest. A bit of appropriate self-disclosure helps build trust as well.
So, that’s the CREDiT model in a nutshell. Now let’s bring this back to you, and your stakeholder relationships. Think of a particular stakeholder that you’re having difficulty with, and ask yourself:
What, if anything, could I do to:
- reinforce commonality,
- initiate reciprocity,
- extend empathy,
- honour difference,
- and build trust
… with this person?
And let me know what you come up with.