We all know that projects take time and effort. Whether planning an event, constructing a building, or installing public art, we expect to spend hours on the project timeline, project budget, and project deliverables.
What sometimes gets forgotten (or even lost!) in the discussion are the people involved or affected by the project, i.e. the stakeholders.
Stakeholders have a degree of buy-in, ownership, or influence over the final product. They’re the people who bring their own biases and expectations to the table. They’re the people who will sing the project’s praises or complain bitterly about the outcome.
In short, they’re the people who will determine the success of the project – and they might not even be involved in the daily work.
So how do you keep them engaged and pleased with the final outcome?
At Reach Partners, we spend a lot of energy connecting and communicating with the people whose opinions can make a project sink or soar. Also known as stakeholder management, this process takes a lot of effort. That hard work pays off as projects keep moving forward and succeed.
Here are some tips we’ve found helpful:
Frequent touch points and empathetic listening are key to building trust; trust leads to happier stakeholders.
Effort spent nurturing these relationships is energy well-spent.
We are big believers that good food, good drinks, and good conversations go hand-in-hand.
Imagine a gathering of friends without snacks or a decadent dessert. Picture the family gathering at Thanksgiving or Christmas without turkey, lefse or a fine wine and egg nog.
Can’t do it, can you?
Neither can we.
This is why a year ago we decided to be more intentional about having in-person conversations with prospective and current partners. We also wanted to insert some creativity into those connections.
Networking lunches and meetings are valuable, but we wanted to do more than meet people. We wanted to build relationships.
And so we began CCC – Coffee, Cheese Plates, and Cocktails.
The concept is straight forward. Every week we set aside time to connect with people – in person. Sometimes that means scheduling a coffee meeting during traditional working hours. Other times it may mean initiating an after-work gathering over a cheese plate and cocktails.
To be clear, we’re not against enjoying other beverages or appetizers (Note: Anita doesn’t even LIKE coffee), but CCC gives us a framework. An excuse to gather, if you will.
One of the great pleasures of doing project management work is that we get caught up in the excitement (and share in the apprehension) of our partners’ ventures. We are energized by the collaboration and connections that happen naturally when you work toward a common goal.
We believe in carrying those connections beyond project management work.
Conversations over coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails give us an opportunity to learn and empathize in a stress-free, safe setting. Relationships can develop and deepen over several coffee connections (and maybe a couple of cheese plates). Time spent together builds trust and true partnerships – those values that are important to us at Reach Partners.
In our world, a cup of coffee is more than a vessel for caffeine. It’s an invitation to get to know each other, and that is something valuable indeed.
So, get to know us. Schedule a get-together with one of us by clicking below. This will take you to our calendar where you can choose a time to meet us for coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails. We look forward to it!
Schedule a CCC with Anita: calendly.com/ahoffarth
Schedule a CCC with Rachel: calendly.com/rasleson
Schedule a CCC with Sean: calendly.com/reachseank/connect
Communication is key to the success of every project we manage. From brainstorming to delivering the final product, we work hard at making sure everybody is heading toward the same goal. We then ensure our stakeholders know what’s happening and when.
To get to that point, we participate in and facilitate numerous conversations. Some are easy and straight forward; some are challenging and uncomfortable.
This is why I looked forward to reading Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and Life, One Conversation at a Time with my Mastermind group recently.
Scott believes that interpersonal difficulties, at both work and home, are often a direct result of our inability to communicate well. She encourages us to use conversations to connect deeper with colleagues, partners and family members, and suggests ways to handle strong emotions – those icky outbursts that can pop up when difficult conversations take place.
Fierce Conversation has a different feel to it than some of my other Mastermind favorites: Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose and Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Still, I took away four key messages from Scott and am working hard to incorporate these tips.
1. Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary and replace it with “and.”
I use “but” a lot when I talk and write, so I need to be intentional about swapping these short connecting words. Scott suggests that “but” stops a conversation while “and” continues it.
For example, if somebody needs my assistance and I am busy, I may be tempted to say: “I want to help, but I am in the middle of something right now.” The listener doesn’t hear me say that I want to help; she hears that I’m busy. If I replace “but” with “and,” I can continue the conversation with more details about when I can help.
Of course, this suggestion isn’t always perfect.
Recently I caused considerable confusion when I responded to a group text invite with: “Gathering sounds lovely and I already have a full weekend with family and activities.” The friend who issued the invitation had no clue whether I was coming or not, and I spent the next few minutes trying to explain my new philosophy. Oops!
2. Have fierce conversations with myself.
I always thought that having a conversation meant having it with others. Scott suggests that we use the same model and tools we use to communicate with others to communicate with ourselves. Begin by asking yourself, “What fierce conversations am I not having with myself that need to happen?”
Do you need to ask yourself why a relationship is strained? Or why work isn’t as fulfilling as it was three years ago? Granted the conversation might not happen out loud in a coffee shop. Try journaling instead. Sometimes the best energy we can give is to ourselves.
3. Accept that fierce conversations cannot be dependent on how others respond.
We’ve all been there: there are conversations we avoid because we know the other person will be upset, angry, defensive.
Scott says that if I know something must be changed, I am the one who needs to change it. Or as Tolle puts it, I need to not be attached to the outcome of a conversation. Gulp.
To help, Scott clearly lays out how to have tough conversations like The Confrontation (and these references are clearly labeled in the appendix. Score!).
She recommends using an opening statement that is either written down or practiced out loud. This statement includes naming the issue, an example that illustrates the situation you want to change, your emotions about the issue, clarification on what is at stake, your contribution to the problem, your wish to resolve the issue, and an invitation for the other person to respond.
And she says that this statement should last 60 seconds or less.
Let me repeat: 60 seconds or less.
I have yet to use this tip, and I appreciate that Scott includes in the book numerous examples of how this model has worked.
4. Believe that a careful conversation is a failed conversation.
What?! As a person from the upper Midwest, I thrive on gentle, careful conversations. (I bet you do, too.) Scott isn’t advocating that we move away from being kind and respectful. She does challenge us to ask questions when we don’t understand something. She advocates for being curious about others’ ideas and really digging deep into them.
When we’re careful, we’re not vulnerable, she says.
Vulnerability is something I’ve explored by reading Brown, who has researched and lectured on the topic extensively. Brown sees vulnerability as the birthplace of connection and the path to feelings of worthiness.
If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we deprive ourselves (and others, frankly) of growth. If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we’ll have lots of careful conversations that lead to frustration, if anywhere.
Fierce Conversations came with suggested assignments, which felt more like practice than homework. Thanks to that, these concepts feel applicable and like something I’d use the next time I need to have a difficult conversation.
What great books have you read lately?
We have some thrilling news to share: we’re growing!
A couple of weeks ago, we asked Sean Kelly to join our team as a project manager focused on business development and new client relationships.
To our great delight, he agreed.
He now becomes our third employee, joining co-owners Rachel and Anita.
Sean is a perfect addition to our team. He has a strong technical background and knows how to successfully work with clients.
Here are a few reasons we’re excited about Sean joining us:
We could go on and on, but we’re super excited about this move because Sean shares our values and will support our mission to do what is right for our clients and our community. We know this because we’ve worked with him on several projects over the years. Every single time he kept our best interests in mind and built the trust that we expect from those we work with.
It’s no exaggeration: we’ve enjoyed every minute that we’ve partnered with Sean in the past, and now we get to do it every day.
In case you’re wondering, Sean lives in Moorhead with his wife, Amy; their two daughters, Olivia and Audrey; and the family dog, Comet.
Please join us in welcoming Sean to Reach Partners. Drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Twitter at @ReachSeanK.
Thanks to the generosity (and quick eyes!) of one of our partners, we recently received a 1960s-era booklet detailing how to lead a successful conference. The 16-page guide reveals all sorts of gems. We laughed. We cringed. And, in some cases, we even nodded. After all, we may no longer live in the days of three-martini lunches and casual sexism, but starting a conference on time? Still good advice.
We wanted to share a few of our favorite pages. Some of the details make us shake our heads, but it's also humbling to recognize how some things in the project management industry haven't changed at all. And, we also know that in another 50 years, somebody is going to laugh at our to-do lists.
So, enjoy this flashback to project management ala "Mad Men."
Good advice here. And, we'd like to think this sketch is a precursor to selfies.
Yes, pre-conference planning IS very important. Yes, we've looked like this guy before — (how many boxes can you safely carry from a vehicle to the registration table?!) And we are thankful that we don't have to bring ash trays and chalk to events anymore.
Again, this is all great advice. In fact, we use these tips whenever we need to facilitate a discussion or planning session for a project.
Ah, yes. Back in the good, ol' days when everyone of importance was named Bob. Or Jack. And war metaphors were applicable in almost any work environment. Still, it's going to be hard to get these sketches out of our minds next time we lead a meeting.
The cigar. Enough said.
How has your profession or industry changed in the last 50 years? How has it remained the same?
First you get the idea or the assignment. For a moment, you and your team are excited (or maybe terrified – who are we to judge?)
Then you quickly realize that for a project to be completed, you need to start it.
Of course, common sense suggests that projects need to be started before they’re finished. But at Reach Partners we’ve seen projects fail to launch or stall because a successful start was an obstacle. Starting is harder than it looks.
Projects fail to start for all sorts of reasons: lack of vision, misunderstanding, confusion, procrastination. “Just do it” may work for athletes who love Nike, but most organizations and teams need a clear process even before the project planning starts.
Granted, as an outside vendor we bring a fresh perspective to any project. We have experience staying flexible and nimble throughout the process. Still, we focus on three stages every time we start a project: listen, investigate, and gather.
On the surface, “listen” seems straight forward: pay attention so you can hear what someone is saying. By giving someone your full attention, you understand and hear what is being said (and not just what you think someone is saying). You also build rapport and trust. Believe it or not, one of the hardest things to do in a group setting is to ask a question and then say nothing more. Silence is a powerful force – one that gives people time to think and space to talk.
This is where you dig deep to discover facts and information. It’s also known as the “ask a lot of open-ended questions” stage. Use your how, what, when, why, who language to uncover the data that will later help you determine the scope of the project. Ultimately, you are trying to determine how the project fits into the goals of the business or collaboration. No questions are off-limits, which means individuals and groups need to be willing to be honest and forthcoming. (If the project has stalled in the past, why?) Expect to prompt conversation and use follow-up questions.
This is where you create space and opportunity for all the stakeholders (co-workers, volunteers for a collaborative effort) to come together and share what they want to happen. It’s an opportunity to start listening for project expectations (goals, budget, timeline), as well as possible barriers or challenges. It’s also a chance to make sure everyone has the same background and foundation of information. As an outside vendor, we find often that what is obvious to some in a group isn’t always apparent to everyone in the room.
Have you ever had trouble starting a project? Comment below – or drop us a personal note!
Nearly every job description we’ve seen includes the line “other duties as assigned.”
Some people view that responsibility as a burden. For them, “other duties” are small, insignificant tasks that nobody really wants to do. These people might complain or even ignore something that needs to be done. They might even “delegate,” suggesting that it falls under someone else’s job description.
We like to work with (and be!) people who see “other duties” differently. These are the people who wholeheartedly embrace this responsibility and actively look for ways to step in and be helpful – even if the task falls outside their job or title.
Opportunities to unexpectedly step up don’t come along every day. But when grisly occasions arrive, you learn who you want on your team: the intern who sees a need and fulfills it, the CEO who pushes aside ego and picks up a plate, the staff member who solves a problem before you even know it exists.
As we’ve learned from managing various events, it doesn’t matter whose job it is. If something needs to be done, do it. It’s not worth your time to argue about whose responsibility it is.
Sometimes, you need to:
After an event, when you’re exhausted and exhilarated, it’s human nature to rehash and relive what didn’t go well.
But it’s even better to recognize the plucky heroine who jumped in at a critical time of need. It’s satisfying to delight in the tale of an individual who set aside ego or an opportunity for rest to cheerfully don another hat for the good of all.
We all need these people in our lives and on our teams – someone who serves and comes to our aid even if the need seems simple. Call them small stuff superheroes, if you will. They are superheroes, nonetheless.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was adapted from one that was first published in August 2013.
It's always fun to be part of something big, which is why we were so grateful to put our project management skills to work on some grand opening events for the new Sanford Medical Center Fargo earlier this month. (Congrats to Sanford Health on this amazing milestone!)
We assisted the Sanford marketing team with some of the activities that took place during the three-day celebration. Of course, considerable planning and coordination happened beforehand, but here's a glimpse of what the actual week looked like from our perspective.
We never stop planning and setting goals. (We are project managers, after all).
We do it for our clients, our professional selves AND our personal selves.
This year, we’re even doing it for our summer.
We’ve been inspired by Anita’s son, Ian (one of our Reach Partners kids), who came home one of the last weeks of school with a wish list for summer. This summer he wants to take swimming lessons, have a stick fight, go to the beach, go on a vacation and play outside. (Thank goodness Disneyland did not make the list, although that may be his idea of a good summer vacation.)
Anita posted the list in her home’s front entry. This way the family won’t forget to do some of the activities.
We decided we could do the same: a Reach Partners summer wish list, now posted for all to see.
Summer is fleeting, and by writing these goals down, we will hold ourselves accountable (and we hope you will, too!):