As architecture practitioners our ability to deliver exceptional results is often dependent on our ability to connect with business stakeholders. Unfortunately some practitioners struggle with this. Effective communication between practitioners and stakeholders is crucial obtaining the information needed to drive architecture and therefore, the ability to connect with and understand key stakeholders is fundamental to the architect’s arsenal.
Outlined below are four simple techniques to build rapport and trust with business stakeholders from any organisation, at any level.
Ask them about their role.
For most of us, our work is a significant part of our lives to which we devote an immense amount of time and energy. People outside our own work sphere don’t always find it as fascinating as we do and so most stakeholders will be quite willing to explain what they do to you. If there is a shaky relationship between business stakeholders and practitioners, this can be a comfortable way to start a conversation and build the relationship. Importantly, as you gain a better understanding of what various stakeholders do, you will instinctively be able to identify issues and more readily focus your enquiries.
Ask them what is going wrong and how it should be fixed.
Business stakeholders understand the problems they face on a daily basis better than an outsider ever could. They are in the thick of it and often have great ideas on how to address their problems. While your stakeholder may not be a budding solution architect, asking for their input could uncover valid ideas and will at the very least educate you on the types of options that will be favourable to them. Stakeholders also probably know what solutions have been tried and failed before and asking will ensure that you don’t mistakenly suggest something that they already know will not work.
Ask them the best way to communicate with the organisation.
Everyone has heard the mantra for successful communication: know your audience, but gaining that in-depth knowledge can be difficult when you are new to an organisation. Use stakeholders as a resource to develop your communication strategy. If they back your idea, they will be happy to assist you in developing a plan to get others on-board. While there are plenty of resources available to help design the perfect PowerPoint presentation and convoluted rules like ‘the appropriate level detail is inversely proportional to the seniority of the audience’, no resource will be more valuable than insights delivered by those within the organisation.
Tell stories that resonate with them personally.
While the big strategic picture and broad statements make great wallpaper and impress executives, if you want to connect with people and win their support you will need to make it a bit more personal. A simple story illustrating how the big picture solves a specific problem will not only help to personalise your message, but demonstrate that you have listened to them and understood what they want.
The key is to remember that business stakeholders are people. Like everybody else they want to achieve outcomes with the greatest ease possible. You need to talk to them in their own language and ask for their ideas. This demonstrates to them that you value their input, engages them with the architecture process and assures them that their needs are being considered. Ultimately people do business with other people and architects need to be able to connect with stakeholders to deliver exceptional results and gain their support for future projects.