Last week I introduced some new thinking about three key elements to building effective relationships: Understanding—Value—Trust. Over the week, I tested some of my thinking and an assessment tool with a handful of you. One big question that was raised is:

“What kind of relationship do I really need with this particular stakeholder?”

A very good question since  you will want to focus any work to strengthen a relationship with a clear intention.

Two Questions to Ground Your Relationship-Building Activity

  1. What outcome (i.e., result) am I committed to for which this stakeholder is a key relationship? Think big and small outcomes. Is there a deliverable, a key decision, an internal or external relationship etc. for which you share some accountable? Do you share accountability for implementing a change in operating process or culture?
  2. What is the underlying purpose for the relationship? Try not to make any assumptions before you think. For example, if the stakeholder is your boss, the purpose may be to funnel your results or an integration of your results with his or her team’s broader business outcome. A senior stakeholder relationship may purely be approval of your recommendations or some outcome far more complex such as organization reputation or “face” to the market.

Three Core Types of Relationships

Given the shared outcome and purpose, what type of relationship do you need? In reflection,  we might say there are (at least) three types of relationships.

  1. Transactional: When a give and take of some value or work product, such as information, analysis, approval, etc. is sufficient.
  2. Collaborative-Colleagial: When the result you are targeting requires some shared work product, decision-making, idea generating, problem solving, etc.
  3. Trusted Advisor: When you or your stakeholder need insight and ideas or solutions that are complex, sensitive, and may require confidentiality in the thinking process.

Think about one of your key stakeholders and answer the two questions and consider the three types above. Then, turn to these questions with words to describe the relationship:

  1. What relationship do I need?
  2. What relationship do I want?
  3. What do I know about how this person thinks about relationship?

The last question is important, because a relationship takes two people. If you naturally want a collaborative-colleagial relationship, but your stakeholder doesn’t seem to want that type of relationship, you have to factor that into your planning.