Q: In order to move an important strategic initiative forward, I need to get several key people on board. They all have very different responsibilities and agendas, and I don’t have any direct authority. Given the challenges posed by the pandemic, how should I proceed? — Monique, 49, director of strategic planning
A: Strange though it may sound, in this situation you need to do exactly what you would do under normal circumstances. COVID-19 doesn’t change things that much.
First, figure out what they want. Each of them, individually. Their roles and responsibilities will affect their view, and so will their temperaments.
You probably have leadership from widely different domains — operations, finance, sales, marketing, and so forth. Each one will define benefits and risks through the lens of their area of influence.
This creates your opportunity.
When you’re talking to the chief marketing officer, think like a CMO. Learn enough about marketing to anticipate the questions your CMO will have. Be able to bring forward benefits they may not have thought of. And even more importantly, prepare your thoughts on how risks could be mitigated.
Perhaps you don’t work closely with some of these folks. It’s time to bring in your internal network. Check in with trusted colleagues across these teams. They will be a good source of advice on how to best position the initiative, pain points that it may address, and concerns their leadership may have.
By the way, if you don’t have connections across the company you can consult, this should be a red flag for you. Especially in a role like yours, you can’t afford to be isolated.
With your preparation complete, arrange time to speak with each of them as a “fact finding” discussion about the initiative. Your goal is to ensure you understand the benefits they need and the problems they would anticipate. You will be testing your assumptions about their point of view and gaining information.
You will also be able to demonstrate your familiarity with their needs. There’s nothing as reassuring as knowing your interests are being taken into account. This step alone will help build buy-in.
Find out what their “must haves” are and the types of compromises they would make, if needed.
Make sure you are considering all of the important stakeholders. There’s nothing like having a forgotten person swoop in; it can wreak havoc on a productive process.
At the same time, don’t err on the side of excessive consensus building. You will never move forward.
It may be hard to get time with them, especially if they are busy with pandemic-related business issues. Ask for a short meeting and go in very prepared. Include a plan for follow-up and get agreement that you can move forward using email and messaging. This will have to take the place of any potential hallway conversations you might have been able to engineer if you are in the same office.
This process, though labor-intensive, will build champions and allies. They will help with holdouts, and your leadership skills will also be on full display through these efforts.