How to Build Critical Stakeholder Relationships

When you are ‘dropped in’ as a consultant into a company that you have never worked for or even when you are starting a new business analyst job or a project with new stakeholders, the most important first step is to begin to build the relationships with your stakeholders.  Not only do you want them to trust you, you want to them to know that you can follow through on any deliverable and that you have their best interests at heart.  You also want to be able to build the trust so that you can influence and impact the project.

I have found that there are several key ways to approach this.  First of all, the introduction – I always present my honest and sunny face to them.  Shake hands. Show interest in them.  This is natural for me, as I truly do care about these people and the company that I contract out to.  As I become more invested in the project and the company, the stakeholders begin to see that.  The way I talk about the project – positive, thinking about ways around roadblocks, wins for the stakeholder — all of this impacts how I am perceived by my stakeholders.

Old Faithful, a geyser in Yellowstone National Park, erupts predictably several times each day. Being predictable can build trust and keep crowds coming to you year after year.

When I talk with the stakeholders on each successive meeting, I interject some personal questions in – How long have you been with the company? Do you have a family?  My energy is always high so they pick up on that and mostly tend to leave the meeting with a smile.

As I start to deliver for them, they begin to see what I can do and that I always follow through, and most especially that I deliver on time or early.  If I cannot deliver on time, then I am speaking with them face to face to explain and have a new delivery date to negotiate.  They begin to see how I relate to other people in the project and begin to trust that I have their best interests in my focus and the best interests of the project and the company.

When roadblocks occur, this is a critical test to increase the confidence and trust that the stakeholder has in you.  How do you deal with it?

  • Are you negative or do you look for a creative way around it?
  • Do you support them and find a positive outcome?
  • Are they satisfied with the outcome?

All this continues to build the trust they have in you.

Finally, just be honest with your stakeholders.  Don’t settle for telling them what they want to hear, tell them the honest truth and the trust they have in you will ensure that they and you are successful in the project.

One of the best experiences I have had with my current company is building a relationship with one of the senior managers in the company.  She is amazing and has moved up quite quickly in the company – because she is bright and ambitious and deserves it.  A lot of people are intimidated by her – they were unsure of approaching her and felt that she did not ‘like’ them.

I watched, listened and learned.

She is not quick to trust and you must prove yourself to her.  I happen to feel that I should prove myself.  I worked hard at engaging her, offering to help, learning her business and the way she liked to work.  Today – she trusts me, includes me in her decisions and was key in getting my contract renewed. Applying these principles not only helped me build a strong relationship and a more successful project, but also helped me extend my engagement!

10 thoughts on “How to Build Critical Stakeholder Relationships”

  1. Michelle Swoboda

    Hi Zibi, this is a great question and one that I am struggling with currently. We have a team member who sees the project and each situation in a completely different way than we do. If we say black, he says white – even to the point of not being truthful. It is so frustrating because I have lost the trust for this person. And respect – well you need to earn that and if you are telling me something that is completely different than you have told to another team member – who do I trust and respect?
    I do a lot of observing my stakeholders when I interact with them. I was in a late meeting today and I just watched their reactions, their facial expressions and their body language. I felt that I could tell how they were feeling through this. I also found that they looked to me for answers when they needed guidance. This tells me that I have their trust. I have always been honest with them, I always follow through – so if I say I will do something, I do it, I arrive at meetings happy, I am helpful and offer suggestions and I know their business. It took a lot for this particular group to work together and I believe they are where I want them to be and through that I know that they respect and trust me too.
    The best suggestion I can offer is to be honest, work with integrity and follow through and I know you will be great!

  2. Hi Michelle, I love your article, could you plaese give me advice; how you go about to ensure, that you trust and respect your stakeholders and that they respect and trast you?

  3. Michelle Swoboda

    Hi Akarsh, thank you very much for your positive words. Happy to hear that you work the same way and are very successful!

  4. @Michelle,
    Great article! Enjoyed reading the post; agreed with you building relationships with stakeholders is an important factor for BA/Consultants.

    I follow similar steps like you When I talk with the stakeholders on each successive meeting usually i do not get started on with work/tasks; meeting starts of general tasks about his day, his work, sports etc. totally based on situation as i have known my stakeholder for couple of years now.

    Also there are times we end up talking about how he approaches his customers on business deals as this has helped me to provide him new set of ideas for the projects this in-turn has led for incremental revenue for us and for my stakeholder i have provided him idea to store data as centralized repository for him and his team.

    All this possible only after i have met initial timelines and deadlines and proved him about my capabilities.

    Thanks again for posting the article!!

  5. Pingback: Weekly Wrap Up: Building Trusting Relationships, Soft Skill Traits, and Having Varied Experiences | Real World BA™

  6. Michelle Swoboda

    Wow, thank you Adrian, Karie and Jack, I truly appreciate your feedback and comments and suggestions. Since writing this article I have been even more aware of the relationships that I build in the company. I find that I am privy to information before others, that people take me into their confidence and that I too find out about potential projects. It just shows how important communication and relationships are to everyone, not just BAs.

  7. Great article. Building and sustaining the relationship with stakeholders is crucial to a BA’s effectiveness. Mainitaining the contact through effective commubication helps overcome the periods of absense/visibility that a consultant may have during various phases of the project. It also enhances your crdibiloty with the stakeholders.

  8. Michelle, I totally agree that this is such an important element to a BA’s success. I have experienced similar success by taking the time to really know and understand the business need and building strong relationships. And Adrian offers some great additional advice. Even things as simple as walking around to say Hi and just “check in” to see how your stakeholders are doing goes a long way.

    Building consistent relationships with key users also means that I learn things before they are official projects, which also gives me the opportunity be involved in early discussions when IT might not otherwise have been engaged.

    I’m a firm believer in the power of communication to build the trusting relationships that will bring trust and opportunity.

    Thank you for reminding all of us how important it is to invest the time to really truly engage with our stakeholders.

  9. Hi Michelle,

    Great article! I completely agree with you that building and maintaining relationships is an important part of a BA or consultant’s role. I always find that having the right people involved at the right times makes a project run much more smoothly, and it’s important to take time to build on those relationships.

    I find a great way of building and maintaining relationships is simply to keep people informed, and to spend time talking about what is important to them (e.g. “What are you currently working on?”, “What is the most pressing issue in your business right now?”. As analysts, we are sometimes seen as people who appear for a period of time, and then disappear (never to be seen again until the next project!). I find that maintaining contact throughout and between projects is a great way of building credibility. It’s also a great way of getting to know the business priorities, which can be useful for future projects, and a great way of engaging stakeholders and letting them know about the value of the BA role.

    Thanks again for posting the article – very thought provoking!

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