Delivering in startups is easy. There are no multi-layered lines of communication, approval comes from one person (generally in the same room as you) and decisions are made quickly. This ties into the risk a startup faces which can be boiled down to "adapt or die", and the timelines for this are really short. In contrast, decision making in large corporates, especially publicly traded ones, is generally an onerous process. You need to get buy in from the right people, get people warmed up to the idea, and navigate the many layers of decision making.
In order to get anything delivered in a decent time frame, efficiency execution and collaboration need to the be the guiding lights. In this post we'll go through the various options you have, how to play the game and - in the end - how to get things done.
Securing Executive Buy-In: The Foundation of Successful Projects
If you think that a project will live or die by how good it is and how much value it will create, think again. The key point to getting anything delivered is to get the right people to back you when it counts. This means getting them onboard to the idea, making sure their feedback is incorporated or addressed, and ensuring they are happy with all aspects of the project. Who are these "right people"? In short: senior stakeholders who are key to your project. Work through which parts of the organisation your project will affect, then reach out either directly to the most senior person you can, or get others at your level or above to introduce you.
The more senior stakeholders you have on your side, the more chance of a successful delivery. Again: this is much more about who you have on your side than what you are trying to achieve. You get people onboard by clearly communicating the value proposition, backed by relevant data, and by ensuring you communicate this well every time. This could be in meetings or in discussions when you pass each other in the hall. Every one of these talks is a pitch, and you should prepare accordingly.
Creating a Win-Win Scenario: Balancing Diverse Interests and Expectations
As you go through the discussions with these stakeholders, you'll have to deftly navigate the various expectations that they have. Some will fall right into the product's focus, in which case you can count them onboard. Most times, however, you'll need to either slightly adapt to what they need or pivot. The pivot can be a soft pivot (add a set of features) or a hard pivot (do the project in a totally different way), you'll have to decide how far you are willing to go and when to push back. One piece of advice here: never say "no", give a positive answer and then help them understand how that might negatively affect the delivery of this product.
"Yes, sure we can include that but where we are right now that will set us back 9 to 12 months. Don't think it would be better to include that in the roadmap, so we can get buy in now and get started quicker?"
Slowly but surely you'll manage to get everyone on the same page, and everyone feeling like they have had some say in what you are trying to achieve. Focus on the shared goals and benefits, especially in group conversations, and use data where you can to back up the relevant parts of the project.
Always keep in mind that while you are dealing with someone in a certain role, you are actually dealing with an individual. They have personal goals and aspirations and the more you can align to these the better.
Making People Look Good: The Power of Positive Reinforcement
When you are a leader, you take blame and defer rewards. The same should be done with a project. View it as something you are shepherding, with the rewards going to those involved and not to you. You are the one bringing everyone along to get their goals achieved, you are not leading the project.
Of course, you will be leading the project but it is important that when the project succeeds, everyone involved in the project succeeds. Having interests aligned in this way ensures you'll be able to get what you need done, and you'll be helping move people's interests forward. At the end of the project you'll have people who appreciate what you've done for them, and a stronger connection to your colleagues.
Keep updates frequent to everyone involved, not just the senior stakeholders, and with every update shine a light on the contribution from the stakeholders or their teams. Celebrate key milestones and make sure that when you hit the big milestone, you are in a position to have the news spread far and wide. Your stakeholders will be more that willing to share the good news too, so everyone benefits.
Achieving Alignment: The Key to Efficient Collaboration
Digging in more to the alignment problem, in a large organisation this can be tough to do. However, there are a few ways to can help ensure you find it early. The more alignment you have, the quicker you can make decisions and the sooner you get your product delivered.
Here are some key points:
Develop clear, well-defined objectives and KPIs
- Start by identifying the overall goal of your project or initiative.
- Break down the goal into actionable, specific objectives that clearly define success.
- Set measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track progress and determine if objectives are being met.
- Ensure objectives and KPIs are aligned with the organization's strategic priorities.
- Regularly review and adjust objectives and KPIs as necessary to maintain alignment with evolving organizational needs and market conditions.
Foster regular communication and knowledge sharing
- Establish open and transparent communication channels that enable all team members to effectively share information and insights.
- Schedule regular meetings or check-ins to discuss project updates, issues, and opportunities.
- Leverage technology to facilitate communication, such as collaboration platforms, file-sharing systems, and messaging apps.
- Create a centralized repository to store important documents, resources, and information that is accessible to all team members.
- Encourage team members to actively participate in discussions, ask questions, and provide feedback.
Encourage cross-functional collaboration and teamwork
- Foster a culture of collaboration by emphasizing the importance of working together to achieve common goals.
- Identify the unique skills and expertise of individuals from different departments or functions within the organization.
- Create opportunities for cross-functional teams to work together on projects, assignments, or problem-solving exercises.
- Encourage team members to share their knowledge and experiences with others to build a broader understanding of the business and the markets in which it operates.
- Provide resources and support for teams to collaborate effectively, such as collaborative workspaces, team-building activities, and training workshops.
Hold regular alignment meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page
- Schedule frequent alignment meetings to allow team members to discuss and align on project progress, objectives, and priorities.
- Use these meetings to share updates, address challenges, identify opportunities for improvement, and celebrate successes.
- Encourage open communication and solicit feedback from all participants during these meetings to ensure everyone's voice is heard, and concerns are addressed.
- Review project objectives and KPIs during alignment meetings and adjust as needed to maintain relevancy and alignment with the organization’s strategies.
- Utilize these meetings to reinforce the organization's values, shared goals, and team collaboration culture.
Questioning and Bringing People Along the Journey: Fostering a Culture of Discovery and Growth
Throughout the journey of getting alignment across multiple stakeholders, assumptions should be questioned and addressed. Many people are stuck in the status quo: "this is the way we do this here". In order to move forward, you need to be willing to ask "why?".
Coming from startups, I like to move fast. When I expect a given task to take 1 week and the answer comes back as 2 months, I always ask why. I dig into the process to understand where the inefficiencies lie (which are almost always manual tasks) and then work with the team to fix these. This might not help your project now, but will it help all future projects from you and others in your organisation in time.
In large organisations, who you have backing you is equally if not more important than what you are trying to achieve. You need to identify the relevant people, warm them up to your idea, solicit their input and take them along the journey with you. Make sure you understand their goals and help them to move closer to those outcomes. The spotlight should be on them, which will not only help you but also help your project as they will share victories far and wide.
Many people dislike "playing the game", but the game is how you get things done in large corporates. It's fundamentally based on trust, which is delegated to senior stakeholders and their buy-in. If you continually work towards mastering this, you'll be able to have an outsized impact on how fast your company can deliver great products.