In order to build alignment between sales and marketing, the first step is aligning the leaders of these functions. And alignment takes communication and compromise towards a shared vision. This can be a challenge to achieve in the best-run organizations and even more challenging when the culture or norms of the groups have caused friction and fractions.
“Between managers and their employees, there is an implied agreement that the manager will give feedback. That same agreement does not necessarily exist between peers in an organization,” he began. “Either it is the cultural norm of the company, which is rare, or that trust has to be built.” Here are six ways to build relationships with other managers or executives across your company.
Negotiate Space For Feedback
“You could go to the co-manager and say ‘we work together a lot and as cross-functional teams we share resources. You see me and my team clearly and probably have feedback and I’d like to hear it,’” Raymond suggested. If there is a specific project or initiative on which you could use feedback, you could use this as a starting place, but don’t stop there. Offer to provide your own insights.
You could continue by saying “Similarly, I see things from time to time and could provide you insights. Can we support each other in this?” Raymond offered that “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then when the time comes you can mention the agreement by saying ‘remember when we talked about giving each other feedback?’” This agreement helps you create space for feedback. “Like so much of management,” Raymond continued, “much is accomplished in the set-up, prep, and planning. Establishing ground rules and shared expectations are is the key.”
Reset With Transparency
“If the relationship has been damaged and needs to be repaired before cultural listening and feedback can occur, you need to reset the relationship,” said Raymond. Perhaps there are frayed emotions or hurt feelings. Perhaps there is a history of distrust to overcome. The rest is “accomplished best with vulnerability and transparently apologizing for past bad behavior,” suggested Raymond. “You can’t have a productive conversation until you are two humans in a room together. If either of you is seeing only past scars or an obstacle to be overcome, you won’t be successful.”
“You can’t solve a human relationship with technology. No among of email, chat, texts, or Slack messages will give you context, tone, and body language. You need to speak to the person face to face, if possible. So many people put off these kinds of meetings only to find how powerful they can be. One leader told me he had been putting of a contentious conversation for two years, but he finally made the trip to go see a colleague with whom he didn’t get along. After a 2-hour meeting, which he described as the best of his career, he and the other person got the issue resolved. They realized there were much more a like than they thought. We have airplanes and phones for a reason (other than checking our email). Sometimes the only answer is conversation.”
In his book, he describes a metaphor of a ladder through which you can provide feedback with authority. This can be applied in co-management relationships, especially those in need of repair or in early days of being established. “When bringing up a delicate issue or feedback, smaller is better,” he advises. “Start the conversation with a simple mention.” In other words, start on the first rung of the ladder. Maybe it is a comment about how a meeting went or a project deliverable. Mention an observation. Often these small mentions don’t require action, they are just to help set expectations. “Less is more,” he continued. “Leave space after the observation for the other person to respond and take their own actions.” Often little things become big things if they are unmentioned. Handling things when they are small, “is an often-overlooked step,” Raymond observed.
Adapt for Style
Not every person or leader is the same and these differences in preferences and communication can lead to big misunderstandings and tension. “When working with peers who might share your leadership style archetype or have a very different one, self-awareness is critical and it is useful to have a common language that you can use to identify points of conflict or collaboration.” You can use tools like Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinders, Insights Discovery, Kolbe, or the frameworks in Good Authority to give you a common vocabulary or ask those who know you best for their insights. “Your team already knows your archetype and tendencies. You can either get in on the joke or not,” Raymond quipped. “Self-awareness is important to a healthy dialogue and for getting feedback.”
But beware of downsides. “The biggest factor working with someone your own style is projection,” he warned. “You tend to be hypercritical of the things that you yourself do. Beware of that reaction when you observe others’ weaknesses.” Every style has strengths and weaknesses. And the “challenge with each of the archetypes is a flavor of micromanagement. Each style wants to have control and it is demonstrated in different ways.” Watch for this tendency in yourself first. Remember that what you “learned in childhood or developed in our professional careers to manage reality was rewarded,” he explained. And we can tend to keep with it, “even if it doesn’t work in the organization or isn’t serving us.”
“If you are with an organization that has more cache or publicity in the company, it is important to proactively reach out to other functions to acknowledge their contributions, ask what would make their jobs easier, to lend expertise in the spirit of generosity, and to elevate others,” Raymond suggested. “Nothing beats going down the hall to talk to people.” In some organizations, this is the sales organization that is seen bringing in new business and in others, it is the marketing organization that is seem building brand and garnering industry attention. You can build a lot of goodwill by simply acknowledging the work and contribution of others in a way that suits their style preferences.
Align Around the Customer
The customer should be the center-point of any alignment conversations as every role in the company should be aimed at creating better customer experiences and engendering loyalty. Create opportunities for shared listening with customers. It is critical to ask questions without knowing the answers. “Sometimes market research can feel like leading the witness,” Raymond observed. “Listening for what you want to hear and generating confirmation bias. You have to remain open to being surprised to be truly curious.” This openness can translate into some surprising insights, not just about the products or services, but about the company itself.
Raymond often asks his clients to reflect on product feedback in this way: “How is the feedback you are getting about the product exactly what we need to change about the culture?” For instance, are your customers saying you are slow and lost your edge with your product roadmap? “Chances are your decision making is slow and you have gotten more conservative in your bureaucracy,” he offered. “If customers complain that they can’t get answers, your employees probably have the same complaint,” as customer experience often mirrors employee experience. “If you want your customers to think of you like the innovation leader, then how is that demonstrated in your culture? What is innovative about your workplaces or internal culture?” he asked. What does customer feedback about products or services say about the culture and cross-functional alignment of your company? What needs to be changed? Use these conversations as a catalyst for courageous conversation and a foundation for teamwork.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com