Relationship Building Tips and Reminders

August 31, 2016
  1. Schedule all key stakeholders for an individual interview (in person if possible) before a solution is defined.
  2. Learn all you can about your client’s cultural history, outlining key events that led up to their present situation and needs.
  3. Determine the client’s preferred form and style for proposals (media, level of formality, level of detail, etc.) before documenting the solution.
  4. Differentiate stakeholders as decision makers, influencers, and implementors and identify what each one expects from the project.
  5. Determine which decisions and approvals require consensus and which do not.
  6. Gain agreement from suppliers and clients on what will be measured and the measurement tools to be used.
  7. Define a solution that will meet the customer’s needs, then plan to over-deliver by adding value.
  8. Use clear benefits statements in addition to tangible outcomes when defining the project solution.
  9. Use terms and units of measure with which the client is familiar.
  10. Know (in advance) the specific criteria that will be used in the approval process (by both decision makers and influencers), and address them in the definition.

FIVE MAJOR INTERACTION-BASED CAUSES OF PROJECT FAILURE Number One: Unclear Definition

August 31, 2016

There are several schools of thought among project professionals on what the phrase ‘initial project definition‘ means.  Everyone agrees that the project outcome and deliverables must be defined, as a minimum.  Some feel it is important to define the delivery schedule and an estimated budget before approval is sought.  Others go the distance and outline a comprehensive plan, in addition to budgets and outcomes before deciding a “go or no go” decision can be reached.

Your ability to develop a good relationship with your client during early discussions and through the Diagnosis stage will determine how much influence you will have in recommending the depth of information required during definition.  If you have used the Diagnosis stage to establish yourself and the team as technical experts and top service performers, your client may simply require a clear definition of the solution to proceed.  If your rapport with the client is shallow and they have not developed confidence in your team, they may require a lot more up-front information.

The more information you must compile before approval, the more resources you may be wasting.  A tight, clear, accurate definition of the best solution for the client, based on a well-researched diagnosis, should be an adequate basis for approval of the project.  It should also be enough information to make an expeditious decision to pull the plug on an ill-conceived project before the use of people and resources start running up costs.

If you have established a good relationship in the Diagnosis stage, the definition stage offers an excellent opportunity to solidify it.  Your proposal of a tight and focused definition should convey to the client that you are interested in meeting their exact needs and minimizing waste.  On the contrary, unclear definition of the solution can lead to missed deadlines, budget over runs, stakeholder resistance, and a number of other problems, each leading to customer dissatisfaction.

In addition to being a pivotal element of project success, a clear definition can set a valuable precedent on how the client relationship will be managed and the project will be conducted.  If the definition is hurried, poorly worded, or otherwise misses the mark, the technical and service performance on subsequent tasks may reflect this initial weak execution.

Typical Causes of Unclear Definitions:

  • The client is not clear on what their real need actually is (a solid diagnosis could be instrumental in clearing this up).

For example, you are called in to stop a slide in profit margins for a manufacturer of resin-based patio furniture.  The management feels a switch to more contemporary designs is the solution.  What they haven’t explored are solutions for the real need: to stop eroding profits.  Are raw material costs too high – should they switch suppliers?  Are inventories too large, adding to overhead?  Are transportation costs eating into margins at an inflated rate?  In other words, their need may have a much simpler solution than redesigning their entire line.

  • The client is not willing to take the time to describe the situation (they may take the stance that your job as solution provider is to discover their needs without their participation).

For example, you are reputed to be the best ad campaign consultant in the East.  An importing firm calls you in to replicate their success in England with a line of tea biscuits, in New England.  They have no interest in retracing their steps or giving you time to diagnose the situation.  Your expertise is what they are buying and they expect to move forward quickly.  Do you think a successful campaign can be launched without the benefit of a well-defined solution?

  • You and/or the client assume that the solution is clear and understood.

For example, you are a trade show planner for a Software trade show that takes place every year in a major convention hall downtown.  The past two years have seen reduced booth reservations through the fall, until you announce a price reduction and free amenities.  This year the shortfall in reservations is the largest ever.  You and the client feel it simply requires deeper discounts and better giveaways – the same as every other year.  What you and the client have overlooked are an increase in similar shows in the area, the increase in e-buying for software, and the fact that fuel, lodging, and parking prices have doubled in the last 5 years.  Will discounts be the solution?

  • The client is uncomfortable disclosing all the details for fear of breeching confidentiality barriers.

For example, you are put in charge of implementing a complete backroom payroll administration system for a successful privately held construction company.  The CFO of the company refuses to release records on compensation history or current packages for principles and Board members.  Without this information you cannot fully define the best accounting practices for the client, but they insist the project move forward anyway.  Can you define a complete solution for the client?

Preventive Strategies:

  • Schedule a meeting to close out the Diagnosis stage (including incorporation of stakeholder comments), and dedicate a segment of the meeting to confirm the needs of the client prior to initiating the Definition stage.
    • Use the First Law of Service to assess the client’s satisfaction with the diagnosis.
    • Seek input and clarification on the needs you have documented from all stakeholders.
    • Explore the client’s preferences around proposal scope and sequence for presentation of the definition.
  • Use an informal event to initiate the Diagnosis and Definition stages (e.g., lunch, dinner, etc.).  This may help the client to feel more comfortable about discussing the issues in question.
    • Discuss protocol around confidentiality. Agree to sign non-disclosure statements to make the client comfortable.
    • Apply Active Listening techniques to acquire information
    • Discuss how you can access other resources in the client organization
  • Develop confidence in the Client that your methodology assures their satisfaction by proactively addressing issues that may negatively impact the project.
    • Describe your approach for testing assumptions
    • Explain the benefits of risk management
  • Challenge the assumptions that you and/or the client have regarding the definition of the solution.
    • Seek agreement on the scope and depth of the definition.
    • Probe for any insecurity on the client’s behalf regarding competence of team members.
    • Present a list of assumptions you have made regarding the client’s expectations, ability to secure necessary resources, time available, etc.

Contingent Strategies:

  • If the client is non-participatory, establish a process for the client to accept and approve (sign-off on) the definition that you have developed with the information you could gather. Include a detailed list of all questions and untested assumptions.
  • Submit a clear and comprehensive proposal for the definition. This will facilitate approval as well as serve as a foundation document should subsequent disagreements or challenges to the definition materialize.
  • Complete a Decision Matrix. It’ll be very useful if any disputes or misunderstandings develop around the definition.

Due diligence pays off.  Doing the homework required to produce an accurate diagnosis dovetails with the preparation of a clear and comprehensive definition of the best solution for the client.  And remember, your homework is not limited to data gathering and technical research.  You must be constantly promoting close communication, building confidence, and establishing a relationship based on teamwork and mutual support.  The best evidence of great service performance at this juncture is accurate reflection of the client’s needs in preparation of the clearest, most comprehensive definition possible.

Stages of Project/Relationship Initiation: Approval

August 31, 2016

This is the seventh in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the second stage of project/relationship initiation – The Approval Stage.

Approval

A sound diagnosis and a comprehensive definition set the stage for a smooth approval process.

In Diagnosis, the key is careful research into the organization’s history.  In Definition, the key is a clear understanding of the client’s needs and expectations.

In Approval, the key is firmly based in managing relationships, and in knowing the preferences and decision-making style of all the stakeholders (which you have identified in the process of defining the solution).

In the process of establishing Approval for the project, stakeholders fall into two major categories.

Decision Makers

These people are usually high-profile on the project, and they are consulted at all milestones and other junctures where “go/no go” decisions are made.  They can be:

  • The Project Leader
  • The Project Client
  • The Sponsor (providing funding, approval or support for the project)
  • Miscellaneous committees, boards, or managers who have a stake in the project’s success.

Influencers

While decision makers are fairly easy to identify, influencers may be obvious OR transparent in the project planning process.

Obvious influencers are the people who will use the project outcome(s) and/or those whose individual or department functions will be impacted by the project.  These influencers tend to be well-integrated in the project and part of the unfolding process.  Though they may not make decisions, they are constantly using their authority to influence them.

Transparent influencers can be senior managers, longtime ‘vets’ in the organization, and other core players whose position or history give them significant power over the company’s culture.  The influence these folks exert is not documented or directed at specific decision points.  It’s impact is both subtle and substantial as it shapes the way things happen more so than specifically what happens.  You may not be able to pinpoint the source of their brand of influence, but you will certainly feel the impact.

The key then, to a smooth approval process, is to understand the needs, preferences and expectations of as many stakeholders as possible.

The better your understanding, the better your ability to manage the relationships.

Keep in mind that the relationships you have with your approval stakeholders can be multifaceted, and perhaps fluctuating.  You may functionally report to a decision-making stakeholder as well as serve their needs relative to the project.  Your relationships with influencers may vacillate from supplier to client and back again, depending on the stage of the project.  The most important success factor is to keep these people involved by providing them with the information they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered.

Stages of Project/Relationship Initiation: Definition

June 15, 2016

This is the sixth in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the second stage of project/relationship initiation – The Definition Stage.

Definition

Have you ever entered a theatrical performance after the beginning of the Second Act?  It can be challenging to ‘catch up’ with the story line and get involved with the characters and plot.

This is often the case with projects.  Clients tend to engage the services of project specialists once a problem or opportunity needs immediate attention and the First Act (Diagnosis) is over.

Some common reasons leading to your entrance at the Definition stage are:

  1. The client has done a rudimentary diagnosis, but is not committed to the information or intends to use it in the definition of the solution.
  2. Time or budget constraints have forced the client to jump right to the Definition stage with no investment in diagnosing the situation.
  3. Untested assumptions about their background/history lead the client to believe they know the cause and therefore they skip diagnosis.

All of these scenarios are less than ideal, and you will have to probe and sift to compose the clearest possible definition of the need, problem, or opportunity.  At a minimum, you should solicit answers to the diagnostic questions, at least informally.

Even if your research falls short of giving you adequate information for a good diagnosis, it will help you establish relationships with key stakeholders and get the project off on the right foot.

If, however, the client resists spending any time on diagnosis, you may need to abort any attempts to explore the past, and rely on your judgment and intuition to get the most from the information you have.  It is usually unwise, however, to put the project at risk in this way before it actually begins.

No matter where you become engaged in the Definition stage, there is one key point to remember.  The more accurate your understanding of the solution (and its evolution), the more likely the project outcomes will exceed the client’s expectations.

Most clients will request that you document or package your proposed solution.  This can be formal or informal.

Formal proposals usually require:

  • A format specified by the client
  • Submission requirements (number of copies, media, attachments, etc.)
  • A specific process for submitting changes or revisions

Informal proposals can be:

  • Written: letter, memo, or e-mail
  • Prepared presentation
  • Verbal ‘contract’ in person or by phone (often followed by written summary notes)

The opportunity to submit a proposal is also an opportunity to develop the client relationship.  Do your homework and find out as much as you can regarding the client’s preferences in the items above, and prepare your proposal as close to those specifications as you can.  This will demonstrate to the client that you are focused on their needs and committed to outstanding service performance.

Regardless of the depth or complexity of the proposal, it should include information gathered from the Diagnosis stage, particularly as it relates to identifying the root cause of the problem.  In fact, your proposal may actually help the client to rectify the root cause before implementing a solution.

Understanding and managing stakeholder needs is a significant part of relationship management.  The Definition stage is where relationship needs are interwoven with technical needs to craft a solution that can be embraced by the client.

Defining a solution requires answers to a few questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders?  (Include those identified in Diagnosis, and others as required due to the additional clarity of the definition.  Remember, stakeholders can be decision makers, implementers, influencers, and those who are not involved but are affected by the project.)
  2. What are the needs of the stakeholders for involvement and information?
  3. Who will benefit from the need, opportunity or problem being addressed successfully?
  4. What would be an ideal outcome?  (Where and when would it be realized?)
  5. What would be delivered to whom and when as a result of this outcome being achieved?
  6. Who will receive/use each deliverable?
  7. Who would evaluate the success of this effort (i.e., which stakeholders)?
  8. What will the evaluation criteria be?  (What measurement tools or systems are currently in place?)
  9. What boundaries/constraints must be respected during this effort?
  10. What assumptions are being made about this situation and solution?

Comprehensive, clear answers to these questions will greatly improve your chances of exceeding your client’s expectations.

In summary, the successful solution will be a composite of the input from the stakeholders, project clients, team members, and lessons learned (history).  The more represented these players are in the solution, the more likely the approval process will proceed unencumbered.  Managing relationships among key players will facilitate participation in the project and ownership of the outcomes.

Stages of Project/Relationship Initiation: Diagnosis

June 15, 2016

This is the fifth in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the first stage of project/relationship initiation – The Diagnosis Stage.

Stages of Initiation

Your interaction with the client begins as soon as the client begins to formulate an impression of your organization.  This can be from an initial conversation with a receptionist, reading an advertisement, hearing word of mouth comments, or experiencing the first direct contact with you.  You may or may not have any control over the client’s first impressions, but you need to be aware of them in order to productively manage the initiation of your project.

If you can safely assume some interaction preceded your involvement:

  • Find out as much as possible about the previous encounters (who, what, when, where and why).
  • Determine what went well, and what didn’t.
  • If you uncover any pre-existing problems, make every effort to fix them without blaming or embarrassing anyone (you will be a hero to all involved).

Regardless of whether you are attempting to initiate a new relationship or expand one that currently exists, three stages within initiation will always take place.  There is no prescribed length for each stage, but there is a set order.  It is:

  • Diagnosis
  • Definition
  • Approval

These stages apply to project work as well as all types of supplier – client interactions (including work with internal customers).  Each stage has relationship management implications that need to be addressed.

Diagnosis

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”

                                                       – G.K. Chesterton

In you are entering the project very early on; you will most likely be involved with the Diagnosis stage (i.e., figuring out what the problem, opportunity or need actually is).

In the Diagnosis stage, your goal is to determine why the current situation exists, or metaphorically, why the fence was erected in the first place.  Invariably, this will require you to do some detective work, digging into the background and historical data that will develop into a clear picture of the events leading to the current situation.  The more intellectual and emotional awareness you acquire about the client’s relevant history, the better prepared you will be to craft a creative and effective solution.

A significant associated benefit is the client’s increasing confidence that:

  • You appreciate their evolution in arriving at this juncture.
  • You respect their past and present cultural trends and influences.
  • Your solution will reflect where they have been, and where they want to go.

In this stage, you are seeking to understand:

  • Why does something need to be done now (or soon)?

    For example:

      • Has there been an increase in new clients?
      • Has there been an increase in client complaints?
      • Does the business need to diversify?
  • What events have led up to the current state of affairs?

    For example:

      • Has there been a merger or acquisition?
      • Is new leadership setting new priorities?
      • Have market fluctuations required internal reorganization?
  • What relationships are affected (or were affected) by these events?

     For example:

      • Did relationships with existing customers change?
      • Have internal relationships between departments gotten better or worse?
      • Have reporting relationships changed for a number of employees?
  • What previous solutions/alternatives have been attempted, and what do the results of these attempts reveal?

              For example:

      • Can you draw from a repository of lessons learned or best practices?
      • Have there been training programs directed at the situation?
      • Have prior projects attempted to solve the problem?
  • Do different opinions exist as to the need, opportunity or problem?  (i.e., are there two or more ‘camps’ with competing ideas for solutions?)

            For example:

      • Are there two or more executives proposing differing solutions, or defining the situation in competing ways?
      • Are there different solutions for domestic and international interests?
      • Are there ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ forces in opposition?
  • Who are the stakeholders?  (Identify stakeholders who ‘own’ the situation and those who can influence whether or not a solution is pursued.)

             For example:

      • Who has the authority to interrupt or impede the project?
      • Who will derive the most benefit from project success?
      • What departments may not have an interest in the project but may be impacted by it?
  • What do key players believe to be the root cause of the problem?

              For example:

      • Will identifying the root cause have significant political fallout?
      • Is the root cause strictly financial?
      • Has the root cause been previously defined but ignored?
  • How well has the alleged root cause been verified?

             For example:

      • Is the data describing the alleged cause current and relevant?
      • Is the person or group who defined the cause unbiased and properly trained?
      • Have subject matter experts been called in to review the findings and verify their accuracy? 
  • What relationships need to be carefully managed during the Diagnosis stage?

              For example:

      • Are there any key stakeholders who may resist offering information important for accurate diagnosis?
      • Will it be difficult to enlist the support of some key influence stakeholders who don’t see the value of the project?
      • Do you have access to key decision-makers so you can determine how they will base their decisions?

Pursuing a solution or outcome without this vital information can lead to disappointing outcomes or abject failure.  Part of your role as a relationship manager is to develop the client’s commitment to honor best practices and lessons learned.  This will impress the client with the value of their own experience and history, and your value as a facilitator of positive change.  In particular, your interest in (and understanding of) key relationships will let the client know you are aware of the impact that these interactions may have on any new solution.

Control, Influence and Adherence

June 15, 2016

This is the fourth in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with  Control, Influence and Adherence.

Control, Influence and Adherence

When managing relationships, you will often make an individual impact, and other times need to go with the flow.

You have the greatest degree of control over your own behavior, both in how you conduct yourself and how you respond to client preferences.

You can exude influence over the efficiency within your team. Your level of cooperation, responsiveness, and unselfish contribution will greatly influence project outcomes and customer satisfaction.

Unless you are high up on the leadership chain, you will need to adhere to the majority of cultural doctrine.  Over time, your contribution on the individual and team level can have a positive influence here as well.

Regardless of your level of control, influence, or adherence, you will always enhance client interactions through awareness, a positive attitude, and proactive behavior.

Remember:

  • The only person’s behavior you can change is your own.  If your client routinely shows up late, wasting everyone’s time, ask what you can do to schedule meetings at times the client has fewer pressing demands.
  • Avoid blaming the institution for disappointments in project outcomes.  If your company’s antiquated computer system accounts for delays and partial deliveries, suggest ‘work arounds’ such as out-sourcing some printing or scheduling heavy data entry early or late in the day.
  • Always look before you leap – understand implications of your behavior.  If your enthusiasm to gather project data motivates you to directly contact all stakeholders on the client’s side, hold off.  Consult with your primary client representative in advance to be sure you won’t be over stepping your bounds, violating client protocol, and complicating the relationship.
  • If your choice of action will not improve client interactions, reconsider.  If your response to a client’s over-use of acronyms and buzzwords is to resort to the same approach, take a deep breath before you RSVP.  Perhaps compiling a directory of technical terms and acronyms for the entire team will have a better impact on the relationship.
  • Don’t complain, offer constructive criticism.  If a team member is challenged by the workload and always late with the deliverables you need, respond with suggestions for time management rather than negative comments.

Four Dimensions of Relationship Management – Part 2

June 15, 2016

This is the third in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the Four Dimensions of Relationship Management.

Dimension One: Intrapersonal Awareness

This dimension is the degree that you appreciate your personal style and preferences.  This is the first step in understanding how your personality affects how you work, relate to others on the team, and enjoy your work.

Intrapersonal awareness is not about assessing individual beliefs or core values.  It is about understanding how your beliefs and values affect your behavior, and how your behavior impacts others.

A popular way to develop a picture of your personality preferences is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Such tools don’t suggest that some personality types are more successful than others; just that awareness of differences can improve results.

For example, if you rank high as an extrovert, you enjoy social events with a lot of people.  Don’t take your introverted client to a loud club full of strangers.

Or, if you are a visual learner, don’t assume that your client will get the most information from your PowerPoint demo.  A simple verbal description may be far more effective.

Behavioral Styles: Influence and Conflict Management

A key element of the relationship management process is your ability to manage differences.  During any project, it is inevitable that differences and conflict will surface between you and the client, as well as between team members.  In both cases, understanding the various styles used for managing differences and conflict will help you to exert positive influence without alienating the client and/or team members.

Individuals bring their strengths, weaknesses, assumptions, attitudes and beliefs to bear in the management of influence and conflict.  These elements of personal behavior are reflected in the way we act and react to others in conflict situations.

A useful way to observe and describe conflict management styles is to consider the two dimensions that contribute most to our observable behavior.

  1. Task/activity orientation – This represents our concern for the activity at hand and how we strive to accomplish our goals in the most effective, productive and efficient manner.  In its various forms, it represents the bottom line, results, profit, total service rendered, etc.
  2. People/relationship orientation – Regardless of the task involved, the people asked to accomplish it can be expected to have unique individual needs and desires.  Their motivation to accomplish the task in an excellent manner will hinge in part, on the level of concern that others, particularly those that lead them, show for their individual needs.

We can represent the most typical conflict management styles as follows:

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Description of Influence and Conflict Management Styles:

Dominating individuals view differences or conflict as a threat to their authority and control, thus it is important to cut it off as quickly as possible.  This frequently involves the use of intimidation, threats and personal attacks.  Dominating individuals will usually take a fixed position and refuse to deviate.  Their win-lose perception of situations makes it difficult for them to back down after a conflict has emerged.

Accommodating individuals view differences or conflict as a potentially devastating blow to the warmth and friendly atmosphere that they strive to maintain and thus, it is actively avoided.  Accommodating individuals will quickly yield in most confrontations and if conflict is unavoidable, they will attempt to smooth over the issues so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

When avoiding individuals sense the emergence of differences or conflict, they will quickly withdraw in an attempt to avoid the situation altogether.  When confronted, vague generalizations are   used in an effort to avoid taking a position that might stimulate further conflict.

Depending on the situation, compromising individuals will deal with differences or conflict in a variety of ways.  If unsure of the party line, conflict will generally be avoided or smoothed over.  If majority thinking and opinion is clear, confrontation will be more readily accepted and at times, even sought out.  Conflict resolution comes primarily from negotiation and majority rule.

Collaborating individuals view differences or conflict as a tool that, when properly managed, can encourage new and better ideas to emerge.  They also realize that conflict can be dysfunctional.  They use communication as a useful tool to manage conflict by getting issues out in the open.  They seek to resolve underlying causes by confronting the situation in its early stages.

Each of these approaches represents a functioning style that can be observed to varying degrees in every organization.  Each is associated with an approach to behavior and interaction that has predictable results.

Receiving Feedback

Whenever communication takes place, various factors are present.  Besides logic and rational thought, people have emotions that enter into communication transactions.  We try to take this feeling factor into account when preparing and giving feedback.  It is also important in a team environment to anticipate our responses when we are the recipients of feedback.  Consider the general responses to feedback in relation to the conflict manage­ment styles:

Dominating: Since this style needs to have a strong sense of control, it is often difficult for a dominating style to receive feedback without responding defen­sively.

Accommodating: This style may produce a silent or acquiescent response to receiving feedback.  An accom­modating style may take on more responsibility for project problems or issues than is warranted instead of engaging in dialogue during a feedback session.

Avoiding: A person with an avoiding style may also avoid receiving feedback.  When confronted this per­son will often acknowledge the feedback and then quickly try to move the conversation along to other topics.  This can make it more difficult to partner on finding workable solutions.

Compromising: A compromising style will usually hear feedback, accept some level of responsibility, and look for a middle ground to move the project along.  The danger here is that you may not seek the most creative or effective solution.

Collaborating: This style generally seeks to listen carefully to feedback, attempts to determine the valid­ity and the appropriate responsibility level and pushes forward to effective resolution.  As with giving feed­back, a collaborative style and attitude lend them­selves to making the best use of feedback when it is offered.

Receiving Feedback Guidelines and Suggestions

Generally speaking, careful listening is the key to making the best use of feedback when offered.  The most effective response to feedback is always the one that helps clarify the issue in such a way that it is able to be resolved quickly and successfully.

Some receiving responses to feedback that can help clarify and resolve include:

Silence – Listening quietly, observing and trying to un­derstand the full message in the feedback.

Acknowledgement – Giving verbal indications of under­standing and validation for the feedback.

Inviting non-verbals (as opposed to the “are you crazy?” facial expression) – Using expressions that invite addi­tional information and feedback.

Paraphrasing – Restating the message as you understand it to check accuracy of the communication.

Active listening – Expressing understanding of the importance of the message, as well as your feelings about it.

Perhaps the most important guideline for receiving feed­back is to keep in mind the overall objective of the team and the project.  If all parties keep mutual success in the forefront of communication, both the giving and receiving of feedback serves a vital purpose.

Dimension Two: Interpersonal Relationship Management

All of your internal and external clients need to be assured that you:

  • Take a genuine interest in them
  • Know and respect their preferences
  • Will address their needs in a way that is familiar and comfortable to them.

Whereas the Golden Rule suggests you should treat others the way YOU would like to be treated, a more accurate piece of advice is to treat others the way THEY want to be treated.  It is a natural tendency to assume that what is good enough for us will be good enough for our clients.

How can you determine your client’s preferences and comfort zones?

Observation of Behavior

  • Be mindful of how your client chooses to communicate with you, and reciprocate whenever possible.
    • Do they send more e-mails or make more phone calls?
    • Do they like face-to-face meetings or do they defer to more efficient exchanges?

Check Out the Client’s Workplace

  • If the client’s office is full of family pictures, it’s a pretty safe bet they enjoy a question or two about home life.  If the office is all files and flowcharts, better stick to business.
  • Draw clues from the surroundings the person has chosen to live with for 40 hours each week, and use those clues to pick a communication style.

Ask Questions

  • It is perfectly appropriate to ask the client a set of focused questions to plan and implement a strategy for servicing them.  This is the basis for the “Service Plan” which follows.

Request Feedback

  • Periodically, ask the client to discuss the things you have done that they really enjoyed, and the things they wish you had done differently.  Make adjustments accordingly.
  • Ask questions like:
    • “Was the delivery of the report after lunch okay, or would you prefer the next one in the morning?”
    • “I assumed you would like invitations to all review meetings?  Is that correct?  How will I learn of your plan to attend?”

Seek Input from Others

  • Chances are you know other people who have a deeper experience with the client than you do, or perhaps with the client’s department or company.  Collect as much information as you can on what has or hasn’t worked.  There is no substitute for lessons learned.

One vital aspect of your response to any of the issues above is that the behavior you exhibit to the client is natural and authentic.  If the client feels you are mimicking them, or making artificial and patronizing gestures, they will resent your efforts.

Do things With, Not To or For, Your Client

Another aspect of your behavior that contributes to successful relationship management is remembering that you are doing things WITH the client, not TO or FOR them.  Sometimes we can view the task of making a delivery, returning a call, or editing a report as an imposed requirement or obligation.  In fact, you are entering an interaction (responding to a client need) and you must demonstrate your willingness to actively participate in the solution.

Consider an example.  Your client asks you for eight more copies of a lengthy proposal so she can distribute them to her department.

One option is to begrudgingly make the copies and deliver them to her office.  Your feelings of being treated like a copy clerk will likely come through and taint the exchange.

Another option is to call the client and offer assistance in the distribution.  Perhaps you can send the proposal by e-mail to her staff or provide an electronic copy on a common server for convenient, shared access.

If you still end up making the copies, you will have demonstrated a spirit of cooperation and desire to serve.

Dimension Three: Team Dynamics

As soon as one more person joins your team, you have entered the more complicated world of team dynamics.  Where there was only one relationship to manage (between you and the client), now there are three (you and the client, you and your team member, and the other team member and the client).

All the Rules of Relationship Management Still Apply

Even though you are now a member of a team, most of your interactions will be with one other person at any given time.  Therefore, keep all the suggestions above in mind for every other person in the team, all the time.  When you are interacting with any one of them as your client, they are the most important person in the project at that moment.

Define and Acknowledge Interdependencies

Teams have a common goal, and interdependent relationships must develop in order to efficiently attain that goal.  Everyone will perform better if these aspects of team dynamics are addressed:

  • Individual roles are clearly defined and communicated
  • Hand-offs are defined, scheduled, and documented
  • Communications are thorough and consistent among team members
  • Review meetings involve the right people and are efficiently conducted
  • Supplier/Client relationships are acknowledged
  • Conflicts are surfaced and resolved

Dimension Four: Cultural/Operational Considerations

In order to develop and maintain positive interactions with your clients, you need to be aware of the influence the culture can have on those interactions.

Cultures can impact client interactions in several ways:

  • Explicit and implicit codes of conduct (e.g., How does the culture view gifts to clients?  What level of confidentiality must be maintained?)
  • Communication protocols – formal and informal (e.g., Are all communications documented?  Do certain types of communication require approval?  When are clients copied on team communication?)
  • Image management (e.g., Is there a dress code when meeting with clients?  Is there a standard format and package for delivery of reports or other client communications?)

When the project is directed at an external client, you will be dealing with all the issues above times two.  It is equally important to be familiar with the cultural issues of your organization and that of your client.

The culture of a business is evident in how it operates in addition to issues related to conduct, image, and communication.  Standards or cultural norms established by an organization’s operations can have a direct impact on relationships and client interactions.

Administration:  Does the client culture call for centralized or decentralized administration?  Do administrative functions influence or simply respond to the activities of the business’s core functions?  Your awareness of the role administration plays in your client’s culture can help you relate to administrative stakeholders as well as better manage the role administration plays in the project.

Policies:  How traditional is the client culture?  Do they allow flex-time?  How do they handle maternity leave (for mothers and fathers)?  Is the organization chart more vertical or horizontal?  Awareness of policy platforms like these will give you valuable clues on how to relate to your clients work habits and expectations.  It is not your place to take a position regarding client policies, but to build your knowledge of them into your service plan for the client.

Infrastructure:  Infrastructure can include everything from an on-site cafeteria to voice mail technology to the number of office locations involved in your project.  Your awareness of each infrastructure issue can be an opportunity for you to cater to your client.  If voicemail is awkward or unreliable, make a concerted effort to use more e-mail or fax deliveries.  If team members are located in multiple offices, establish a system for conference calls or electronic conferencing.  Make the infrastructure a known and defined asset or constraint, and adjust your relationship strategies accordingly.

Capacity:  Capacity issues for project execution usually refer to the number of person-hours that can be applied to the project.  Capacity limits can be a shortage of people or a build-up of projects.  In either case, your role is to be sensitive to the outlay of time your clients (and stakeholders) can realistically afford, and then set a schedule that reflects attainable goals.  As a relationship manager, you want people meeting their objectives more often than not.  Working towards a well-balanced allocation of resources will make the project experience more enjoyable for everyone and more likely to result in a satisfied client.

Keep in mind that most of the ways cultures impact relationships are through the implementation of unwritten rules.  It is important that you request clarification of a cultural issue if you are not certain what is expected of you.  Most clients will be quite comfortable explaining the ropes to you in advance, to avoid getting all tangled up in them.

For example, it may be considered disrespectful to show up unannounced in some offices, whereas in others, it is a sign of open and proactive team participation.  A simple question before the first visit will let you know whether to call ahead to your client.  And, just asking the question is further confirmation that you are genuinely interested in understanding and serving their needs, a key element in solidifying your developing relationship.

Four Dimensions of Relationship Management – Part 1

June 15, 2016

This is the second in a series of twelve blogs that provide insight and tips on managing client relationships.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with the Four Dimensions of Relationship Management.

The Four Dimensions of Relationship Management

To truly excel at satisfying client needs, you must be aware of and involved in the four dimensions of relationship management.  These dimensions are:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Team Dynamics
  • Cultural/Operational

Four Dimensions (640x480)

We will explain each of the four dimensions of Relationship Management separately in the next blog.  We can artificially delineate and define them for discussion purposes, but we cannot isolate them in the real world of relationships.  Each dimension is constantly impacting and influencing the other dimensions – they are all interdependent on each other.

Consider the dynamics of a baseball team, with you as the left fielder.

You’re the One

Intrapersonally speaking, you are responsible for development of your athletic skills and your attitude relative to the game.  And although these traits are specific to you and you alone, they can impact other aspects of the game.  For example, if you are faster than the right fielder, the pitcher may throw pitches to intentionally draw fly balls to your field, feeling you are more likely to make the outs.  In addition, if you demonstrate an energetic and contagious attitude for winning, the coach may play you despite the fact you have a lower batting average than the other left fielders, due to the positive impact you have on team morale.

It Takes Two

Have you ever seen two fielders collide as they chase a long fly ball?  Their lack of interpersonal familiarity or communication results in a base hit for the opponent, and has a negative impact for the entire team.  Even though the rest of the team is powerless to influence the outcome of this two-player event, they are nonetheless all affected by it.

What a Play!

Have you ever seen a triple play?  It is that rare but exciting collaboration when several players act as if they were technically choreographed to execute the play.  It calls for acute awareness and anticipation of where your teammates will be, as well as your role in pulling off a perfectly coordinated team play.  Though non-verbal, this is a true demonstration of putting relationships to work at solving a problem.

The Powerful Intangibles

And finally, why is home field advantage such a powerful aspect of team competition?  It is a cultural issue.  The home team is familiar with the idiosyncrasies of their field, used to the climate, comfortable in their own clubhouse, and certainly pumped up by the crowd.  They ‘know the ropes’, the vendors, the reporters, and the die-hard fans.  And given the feeling of belonging, they can focus on their performance.

So, from individual ability to the emotion of hometown cheers, team success is a constant integration of intrapersonal, interpersonal, team and cultural factors.  Your relationships with yourself, a peer, your group, and your environment can work for or against your project success.

Technical vs. Service Performance

June 15, 2016

Technical vs. Service Performance

Moving up from “technically proficient project manager” to “project professional” requires more than the ability to deliver results.  It requires an understanding of implicit as well as explicit client needs.

Project clients differentiate a project deliverable from the manner in which the item was delivered.

A project deliverable (product or service) is the result of your team’s “technical performance”.  These explicit project results are the “what” you have agreed to produce as a result of the project.

The manner in which the project outcome is delivered is your team’s “service performance”.  This is the implicit dimension of the project, and is reflected in the “how, of the delivery.

Whereas the project client depends on the explicit project outcome to achieve business results, the client experiences the implicit service component of the project.  For most of us, the experience of a consumer exchange usually outlives the usefulness of the deliverable itself.

If you engage the services of a talented tax preparer, who charges reasonable fees and reduces your tax obligation, you automatically return next year, right?  The answer is a resounding Yes, unless the planner didn’t return your calls, made you feel ignorant or incompetent, and used explanations filled with tax code technicalities and complicated formulas.  The benefits of what he did are overshadowed by how he treated you.  Similarly, your clients will remember how you provided service long after you complete the delivery of the project outcomes.

Technical vs Service Performance It’s not possible to address one without the other because:

  • The project is the context within which relationships are developed
  • Relationships are impacted by the way the project is managed
  • The project will be managed in a way that reflects the quality of the relationships

What Clients Notice

Every interaction with your client represents a “moment of truth”.  That is, each time you interact, your client pays attention to everything you do and say.  In most cases, they won’t comment on what they see or hear.  The sum total of all these interactions represents how they see you.  It also represents how they are likely to describe you to others (including prospective clients).

Your clients pay attention to:

Professionalism: If you or your work place are clean and neat, this reflects positively on you.  If you speak clearly and appropriately to the situation (e.g., no slang, jargon, acronyms the client doesn’t understand), your client will notice.  Finally, if you maintain a positive attitude, this will be noticed by your clients.

Communication: Your ability to ask the right questions at the right time are critical to successful communication with the client.  So too is your ability to tell the client what they need to know at the right time.

Availability and Responsiveness: Your clients will appreciate it if you are there when they need you.  They will also appreciate timely responses to their calls, questions, etc.

Understanding Expectations: If you take the time to clearly understand their needs (i.e., around quality, value, timeliness, etc.), they will understand that you actually care about them.

Product/Service Knowledge: Your ability to speak intelligently about your products, your services and your organization will impact your client’s confidence in you, and ultimately, their interest in working with you.

Managing Client Problems: If you can prevent most client problems from happening, you’re well ahead in the game.  Equally important, when problems do arise, you need to be able to manage them in a way that shows the client that you are well prepared to deal with difficult situations.

Under Promise & Over Deliver

The more successful you are at maintaining a realistic expectation for the deliverable, the greater will be the positive differential between perception and expectation.  To manage client expectations:

  • Be conservative: set realistic expectations
  • If the delivery schedule must change, immediately involve the client in setting new dates
  • Define the minimum deliverable you can produce and plan to exceed it

The more successful you are at delivering your product or service in a style, manner, or method that pleases or impresses your client, the higher will be their perception of overall project outcomes.  You can increase perceived value by:

  • Holding to all milestones and delivery dates
  • Knowing your client’s preferences for deliveries and communications
  • Surprising your client with some extra deliverables and added value

Imagine you have taken a VCR in for repair, and have been told to call back in 3 to 4 weeks.  How would you react if the repair shop called you in 10 days, said the unit was not only repaired but cleaned as well, and they would drop if off after a service call to someone in your neighborhood!  The extra cost and effort for the shop is minimal.  Combining technical expertise (the repair) with service performance (the delivery) to exceed your expectations is very effective in raising your level of satisfaction.  Your project clients will appreciate, and remember your efforts to bring added value to the relationship.

Delivering added value, and maximizing client satisfaction, is much more than good luck.  Constantly monitoring the variables in the First Law of Service will result in:

  • More future business
  • Client testimonials
  • Increased referrals
  • Client loyalty (it is far cheaper to keep a client than to get a new one)

Managing International Projects – Part 9

September 10, 2015

This is the ninth in a series of nine blogs that provide insight and tips on managing international projects.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with team effectiveness.

Tips for International Projects

  • Test the performance management system for multi-cultural issues
  • Test the multi-cultural implications of your good job/bad job definitions
  • In lieu of regular personal contact, provide a photo and short biography of each team member to all others in the team

The information and recommendations in this blog reflect the Four Key International Variables as documented by O’Hara and Johansen in their book Global Work.

A rule of thumb for team performance management in international projects might be: “A reward in one case can be punishment in another.”  In many high-context cultures, personal praise from an important authority figure may have more value than money.  In other cultures money talks and praise, after a certain point, may be seen as a hollow substitute for cash.  Success that brings more responsibility can be seen as a plus in one culture and as a liability in another.  Some cultures value and expect team rewards; others value and expect individual rewards.

The Four Variables should be used as a guide in developing and maintaining a team performance management system.  A visible performance management system also increases the team’s ability to coordinate effectively with other parts of the organization, including other project teams.

Are project team members clear on what is expected of them, do they have the resources they need to perform as expected and are they capable of meeting these expectations?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Have the team expectations and resources been tested against the Four Variables of International Projects?
  • How are appropriate multi-cultural consequences established?
  • How have the concepts of “good job” and “bad job” been tested for multi-cultural appropriateness?
  • Do these rewards make up for many of the difficulties inherent in managing international projects?
  • Are there special rewards for successfully overcoming problems unique to international projects?

Do project team members understand how their work affects other people, groups and projects?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Have potential international impact issues been identified?
  • How will these international impact issues be managed?
  • What measures will ensure that culturally appropriate linkages are made between individual performance, team performance and the needs of other parts of the organization?
  • What actions are in place to ensure that these linkages are made?
  • How will these actions be tracked in remote international locations?

Is the consequence system designed to promote effective individual and team performance?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Have the Four Variables been used as a guide to identify appropriate team and individual consequences within a multi-cultural setting?
  • What is the plan to meet these multi-cultural team and individual consequence needs?
  • How will the consequence system be monitored?

Example:  You are the leader of a team that is executing an international project.  A variety of cultural perspectives are represented on the team.  You think all is well until one day, when a team member from Mexico complains to you in private that the team isn’t “pulling together” well enough in his view.  You check informally with other team members.  A representative from Norway says things seem fine to her.  A member from Korea thinks there could be more teamwork.  Three team members from the home office in the United States say they haven’t given the issue much thought.  You are concerned enough to make the issue the subject of a special team meeting.  You start the meeting by briefing members on the Four Variables of International Projects.  Then you divide the team into three subgroups with multiple cultures represented on each group.  You learn that there is a wide range of opinion about team versus individual rewards and consequences.  You assign a multi-cultural sub team to further study the situation and present recommendations for creation of a performance management system that meets everyone’s needs as much as possible.