My experience of managing stakeholders at adidas at an executive level began back in 2019. I’d signed up to volunteer for an additional, cross-horizontal project on top of my regular job – challenging myself to move beyond my comfort zone. I was named the single point of contact to strategically manage our vendors in adidas’ Digital Tech team. My goal was to consolidate our numerous vendors, to simplify our ways of working and reduce bureaucracy, while also onboarding additional vendors so we could scale up the development of software applications.
As someone working in middle management, one of my main challenges was to identify and build strong relationships with many new stakeholders – senior executives – inside the company. Managing stakeholders isn’t rocket science, but I do believe it should be conducted off the back of three basic principles.
Invest in getting to know your stakeholders first
I could have easily jumped into my tasks right away, but I realized how important it was to start my new business relationships right. We no longer had the advantage of meeting for a coffee face-to-face – with a prolonged period having to work from home throughout the pandemic – so, I thought of alternative ways to make new, meaningful connections with my stakeholders to collaborate in a hybrid working environment.
Having colleagues around me who were role modeling collaboration in the virtual space made it easy for me to find inspiration for making my first move. For instance, I investigated and accommodated the personal situations each of my stakeholders were in. Some were available early in the morning, others late in the evening, or they were working flexible hours due to their family situation.
When getting to know new people, I invested into connecting with them on a personal level before jumping into business. I used a personal map to get to know people fast. Instead of presenting my personal map, I asked people to ask questions about the pictures they saw. All attendees followed this principle, and by the end of the session we could relate to each other on a personal level. We got to know what motivates us and how each of us could support our strategy. Having found common interests with my colleagues, I was set to work from a solid foundation for collaborating productively.
Managing stakeholders: Build trust to find the right solutions
Through this project, I was able to meet most members of our Tech senior management team, and was committed to obtaining their buy-in for my ideas. When managing stakeholders, behaviors and leaving a strong impression count.
At times, I chose to be very empathetic. And if the situation required, I acted more assertively and persuasively to gain the trust and support of the senior executives who sponsored my project. Not being in senior management myself, this took a lot of courage, but what kept me going was the belief that I had nothing to lose, and I was learning a lot.
My efforts paid off: With the sponsor support I had earned, I was fully empowered to drive the project – and my ideas – forward.
How did I generate trust and buy-in from senior stakeholders? It is easiest to start a conversation from a neutral position, aiming to understand my stakeholders’ views and constraints instead of trying to convince them of an ideal solution without listening to them first. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that is applicable to every situation.
With this approach, I learned that some stakeholders were facing the same challenges we were facing in Digital Tech: Working with multiple vendors in just one product area and dealing with the bureaucracy that comes with it. Having been in the same situation myself helped to create a connection between us. This allowed us to better relate to the solution, while also considering the additional challenges faced by our stakeholder’s constraints.
Moreover, using the concept of the five whys when managing stakeholders helped me get to the root cause of any issue. Exchanging learnings from my experiences on what works well and what doesn’t help us to produce amazing ideas together.
Managing stakeholders and maintaining productive relationships pays off
Investing time and effort into both building and maintaining productive relationships with my stakeholders that were grounded in personal connection did not only help me to achieve my goals. In the end, I was formally rewarded with a new role and a promotion. This experience showed me how important negotiation and stakeholder management skills are, and I recommend learning more about it and investing in the connections you make.
Finally, I could not have come this far without the help and leadership of my amazing team and I am grateful for their support.