Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who Has Power? A Tool to Assess Client Organizations.

In a previous post I discussed the importance of assessing a client’s organization, specifically its 3P’s – Principles, People and Processes.  Some of this information comes through regular interactions, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. It takes more intentional efforts to dig deeper and uncover what really makes an organization tick. This will help improve client retention and build stronger client relationships with the right people.

The Relationship Diagram
In addition to the client interview, which I described in my last post, I want to share a different tool that focuses mostly on the “People P.” The Relationship Diagram helps identify key influencers, those with the real power to make things happen, or not. It’s similar to the diagrams a smart detective will draw to figure out relationships and power in the Mafia organization. 

How to Build It
First, identify the issue at hand like, “which clients do we need to influence to make this project a success." Then list the key players on a sheet everyone can see. Start with your client and ask, "does my client influence X or does X influence my client?"  Depending on the strength of the influence, draw a solid or dashed line in the direction of the influence. Now, we know that influence goes both ways and if it’s equal between the parties, then draw two solid lines going in opposite directions. But be careful here, that should be an exception rather than a rule. Someone usually has more influence in a relationship.

Complete the diagram by going around to all the individuals and asking that same question. You’ll end up with something like you see above (simplified here for explanation purposes):

Influencer Analysis
When complete, stand back and ask, who has the most arrows going out? These are the big influencers in the organization for your particular project. In the example here, Sara, the CFO, has more arrows going out than anyone else and therefore has significant influence. Then the question is, do we have a relationship with her? If not, who will develop one and how do we build it?  What’s her profile? What does she care about?

Bottleneck Analysis
Then, look at who has most arrows going in. These folks are key because they represent a decision junction, which are often bottlenecks. It’s critical to know these people as well. In the case shown here, Paul, the CMO, has more inward arrows than anyone else. Better make sure he is on board with whatever you are trying to achieve.

The Relationship Diagram helps identify key influencers and relationships that are important for project success. It should be a working document since more information about clients may change the direction of an arrow or add a new player to the mix. It’s also a very helpful tool to orient new team members on a project.

Try it out! This is more art than science and practice will make it, maybe not perfect, but better pictures of your client's organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tools for Understanding the Client’s Organization: The Client Interview

In my previous post I discussed the importance of understanding your client’s organization, specifically its 3P’s – principles, people and processes.  Some of this information comes just from interacting with the client both during pursuit and project work. Much of it lies deeper though, and unless you are intentional about finding it, problems with client retention and relationships can result.

One great tool for uncovering information about the 3P’s is a client interview. This is a face-to-face meeting, preferably not connected to the status of a specific project. Rather it should be set up as, “if you have a few minutes, I’d like spend some time learning more about your organization and how things work there. This will help us meet your needs better.” Making it casual, over lunch or dinner for example, is a great idea.

Below are sample questions that should reveal critical information about the 3P’s. It’s important to probe on those questions that are most important.  For example, after an initial response, you could ask, “Tell me more about that,” or “what did you mean about that?”
  • What do you like most about working here? (principles, people, process)
  • What do you like least? (principles, people, process)
  • If there was one thing that could be improved here, what would that be? (principles, people, process)
  • How do you get recognized, move up here? (people)
  • What are key challenges facing your company? (principles, people, process)
  • What is most important to the leaders? (principles, people)
  • How do decisions get made? (people, process)
  • If your company was a person, how would describe its personality? (principles, people)
  • How do things get done around here: budgeting, purchasing, product development, etc. (process)
You get the idea. I’m sure there are more you can fashion depending on the situation.

An important aspect of the interview is how to share the information you just collected. Make sure to write up notes quickly after the meeting. Then share at the next team meeting. File where other project and client information is kept for future reference and for new team members.

More tools to come!