As an external consultant, I’m often called in to help clients whose projects are in crisis. Immediate alignment with the internal stakeholders is mission critical.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, the client decision maker is not the project “boss” so it’s virtual relationship ground-zero and time is never an affordable luxury.
Here are a few of my personal hip-pocket tools for entering new projects when political environments are extra sensitive and personalities are especially trying.
One of my Fortune 500 assignments in recent years was textbook relationship and communication crisis management. The underlying turbulence was directly attributable to my new boss’ (let’s call him NB) predecessor. NB had inherited a team of lackluster, burnt-out execution leads and enterprise-wide stakeholders who were openly hostile towards the program and this particular project after having survived back-to-back years of incomplete, costly, delayed and defect-ridden delivery.
My role was to get the troops in line, research, analyze, design and deploy a plan for successful delivery, and ultimately help NB establish sustainable and scalable functionality and framework to execute year over year going forward.
Your first objective is absolute authenticity. When the goal is to deliver results, ass-kissing does nobody any good, kisser or kissed. I shared my personal story and background, my why (@simonsinek), admitted my known personal strengths and gaps (framing them as asks) to support my mission in the project. This is a beyond the number-of-kids-and-how’s-the-weather ice breaking conversation. This is personal and true: no fluff. He reciprocated and we had the beginnings of an authentic working relationship.
The next key tool to working really well with your new boss during crisis mode, is a consistent communication plan. Throughout on-boarding, NB and I had daily stand-ups (eventually they became weekly as trust grew and risks were wrangled). I kept a running list of questions and asks and reported follow ups as closed or in progress. This may seem really elementary but in my experience, consistent execution of stand-ups like this are rare and highly valued by the highly influential. You build immediate trust and credibility when you show up consistently and follow through on items previously discussed.
Third is really a basic rule to being a good human: Do not say anything unless it’s true, necessary and kind. Impactful communication requires clarity. When I met with NB and had an issue, risk or needed advice - I was very clear to call that out (e.g. “So my ask is for you to advise me on _”), and always present it with recommendations.
If you encounter a new risk, research it first and strive to holistically understand its root cause well enough to raise it hand-in-hand with a recommendation.
If you don’t have a solution, ask for thoughts from the SMEs, seek counsel with stakeholders, and dig up historical documents for context. This helped me educate NB (who remember was new to his role too) on context and gave him the ammo he often needed to escalate up to his leadership. Also, when it came to implement the solutions, he and I were already aligned on the business case and requirements.
Asking for direction, decisions and support is very different from complaining. If you hear yourself saying “I just need to vent,” and you’re talking with your boss, know that they’re thinking, “Why don’t I just do this myself.”
The fourth strategy is to manage down and across with the same authenticity, consistency and communication vigilance. For the project supporting NB, I oversaw other matrixed delivery teams and project leads. When NB met with the other teams’ leadership he heard and knew that I was leading them well, addressing questions and concerns before he ever had to hear about them, solving internal conflict without escalation, and transparently, proactively reporting status and risks up to him before they became issues. I was making him look good.
Making your new boss look good, making their life easier and building an authentic, mutually beneficial relationship is the key to getting off on the right foot with your new boss and to creating a reputation that will continually elevate you throughout your career.
If you encounter a challenging boss, client or coworker, Tarah Keech Consulting is here to help.
Our clients leverage our workshops and coaching to gain the communication and relationship strategies and tools that enable them to:
Save at-risk client relationships
Manage tricky client and internal “personalities”
Navigate politically turbulent execution environments, and
Transform stagnant, underperforming individuals and teams into engaged and enthusiastic producers
Approach and close key business development new sale and up-sell targets
With 15 years in advisory, coaching and leadership roles from startups to Fortune 50s, Tarah Keech Consulting is an executive communication and relationship strategy agency. For more information, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter @tarahkeech.