Building executive trust

Reading this blog entry prompted me to think more about the topic of building executive trust:

Product managers require trust as currency to do their job of driving the investment of scarce product development resources for optimal financial result.

How to build that trust?  Following are some approaches I’ve seen in others and used myself.

1. He who has the best data wins (usually)

Yes, that means having good evidence of market demand.  But it goes beyond that, to having the analytic skill set to find meaning in multiple data sets and in seemingly contradictory information.  And, it’s about choosing the relevant data to influence priority, and which data to ignore.  Don’t cherry-pick to support your opinions; you will be found out.

2. Start small

Whatever relationship you ultimately want with an executive should be based on incremental progress.  Find a low risk, low-stakes proposal to make.  Deliver on the recommendations.  Make sure they know the results.  “Lather, rinse & repeat” at ever-increasing scale.

3. Saving (executives’) face

My experiences in Japan bring home the true meaning of “keeping face” given its importance to Japan’s cultural norms.  It’s tempting to dismiss face-saving as being irrelevant elsewhere.  Do so at your peril.  Ask yourself, “what public stance has this executive taken that my recommendations could contradict?”  You’re apt to uncover the landmines and you must then decide whether to forge ahead or avoid the conflict.  Be careful to not position your data as being too authoritative, as this is a sure means to embarass an exec who has an entrenched, contrary position.

4. Courage

There are times when you need to stand up for what you believe in.  Show some conviction.  Pound the table a little bit.   When no clear face-saving landmines exist, this can be an effective play.

5. Change as a process

If your recommedation is a departure from the norm, pre-sell like crazy.  Lead people on a gradual process of undertsanding and accepting change.  Socialize your ideas as concepts with subordinates who would either influence an exec or know their likely reaction.  Before you go into any meeting with decision makers, know the outcome in advance.  Most proposal review meetings should be a ratification of what has been decided previously through concensus building.

What else has worked for you?

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