The Done Right Podcast
Episode 8

Serve your Stakeholders: Why shared success is the only way to win

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done, but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

We are here at Workfront headquarters in Lehi, Utah, and I am so grateful that you are taking the time to be with me today. We're going to be talking about serving your stakeholders: why shared success really is the only way to win. And we'll dive into what I'm really talking about here, and even who stakeholders really are, and how they're really going to help you to succeed. 

So let me just ask you a few questions to get us warmed up here. How many of you are people pleasers? How many of you feel like everyone has an opinion about what you do and how you do it at work? I think most of us would be raising our hands right now if we were seeing each other. But it's totally true. We have a lot of pressure pushing and pulling us in different directions, especially as managers or as leaders, you've got a lot of demand pulling you in different directions. 

Defining and balancing your stakeholders:

So let me give you a scenario. Let's imagine that Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, Jack Ma, who was the founder, and I think he's the president of the Alibaba Group, and Warren Buffett, were all in a room. Right? You guys know Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, one of the wealthiest men in the world. 

Let's say we have all three of these men in the room together. We ask them the question, who comes first? Your shareholders, your employees or your customers? Who takes priority? Who's star do you navigate by, because heaven knows, you and I both know the demands and needs, what those folks want sometimes is aligned and a lot of times is not. What do you think they're going to say? Well, let me share a couple of quotes from them. Let's say, Richard Branson. There's this quote where he said, “My philosophy has always been, if you can put staff first, your customer second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and you're happy.” Ok. So Richard Branson is like, put your employees first. There's a lot of people who adopt that mentality. 

Jack Ma, here's how he would answer that. He says, “We believe customers are number one, employees number two, and shareholders are number three... I believe if the customer is happy, employees are happy, and the shareholders will be happy. But if the shareholders are happy, it may not necessarily mean that customers are happy and may not mean your employees will be happy.” 

So Warren Buffett, he obviously gives priority to the other group, the shareholders here. He says, “Directors should always act as if there is a single absentee owner and do everything reasonably possible to advance that owner's long term interests.” Right? So kind of saying that your shareholder group, imagine there's this absentee owner and it's kind of the collective benefit of that owner. What do you need to have in mind and keep focused on to make that individual happy? 

Well, all three of these folks are incredibly successful. They are successful into the billions of dollars. But the fact of the matter is, the truth of the matter is, or at least what I believe, and this is something I learned from my CEO, Alex Shootman, is that the Branson-Ma-Buffett choice or the debate here is a false one. It's a false choice. It's a trick question. There isn't a perpetual struggle being played out in the boardroom between your shareholders, customers and coworkers, where one's going to win and everyone else is going to lose. And you might totally disagree, but hear me out. You've got to think of them as a mutually supporting ecosystem of your business. One constituent can't thrive without the other's thriving, too. So even though our interests are most of the time maybe not aligned, or it doesn't seem that they are aligned, you need to bring that mindset to the table. 

And we're actually going to get into that next, but let's talk about really what a stakeholder is. So based on the question and the scenario I threw out there, a stakeholder--stakeholder groups, I should say--can be broken down into three groups, your shareholders, the people that pay for the project, your employees, your staff, your team, they're the ones that actually execute the project, and then your customers are the ones that receive the output of that project. But essentially, a distilled definition is, a stakeholder is anyone that is impacted by your work. Because it's not necessarily just your team that's executing on it, there are perhaps other teams internally that are going to be affected by the actions that you're taking; this project itself. And so there is a more broad view. But really, stakeholders are those that are affected by your actions. So how in the world do you go about enabling them? All three of these general groups here, shareholders, customers, employees, how do you go about enabling all three to thrive? That’s what this episode is going to be about. 

Step 1: Getting your stakeholders on your side:

So the first thing that we were just referring to a moment ago is that you need to shift from a “me and them” mindset. Right. Me and my team, me and my customers or me and the shareholders, to a “we and us” mindset. You've got to believe in this concept of shared success. 

Now, I've got an interview for you with Trish Gorman, who's got this unbelievable set of experiences, McKinsey and Deloitte, and she taught at Wharton, and in Columbia. She helped Jack Welch build his management institute. She's got a phenomenal set of experiences and some great insight on this topic. And so one of the episodes you'll see come out with her is about enabling and supporting shared success. So we'll dive deeper into this topic. 

But here's the thing is that, that shift of mindset, I'm going to start you off and get you thinking this way by giving you an analogy so that you can see the opportunity that's in front of you with those different stakeholder groups. So Jennifer Bridges, who I discovered via the Internet, she has--if you guys have ever gone on and looked up any sort of topic of how to get stuff done, or essentially project management kind of topics--she's got all these videos on YouTube that are done really well over the last several years. I think it’s almost eight, nine years that she's been doing it. But she has this video that I watched a while back about how to win stakeholders to your side. And I want to share this analogy that she gave, and, you know, add my own spin to it. But essentially what she said is that when you're trying to get something done, you've got to imagine that you are a boxer in a boxing ring. You are Rocky Balboa, and you're going toe to toe with Mr. T., you're going toe to toe with Drago. You're going toe to toe with Apollo Creed, and you need to be clear that your opponent is not your stakeholders. Right? It's not your shareholders. It's not your employees or your customers. 

The opponents that you are fighting are challenges and obstacles. These are risks. These are issues. This is attrition. This is maybe even discord, where people disagree with each other. That happens, it’s a challenge, but it's going to happen. All of those things are going to happen. And that's the thing you're gonna be fighting as you're trying to get stuff done. But what your job is, is to get these stakeholders, the three that we've named, onto your side.

And she gives a great personal story to explain how she came up with this. And that is that she said when she first started out in her career, I believe it's a career in project management, she saw stuff that was confusing to her, like project managers and directors and leadership, they were arguing and disagreeing, and in discord with their stakeholders. And she knew early on that those stakeholders really are the owners of the project. And the way that I have learned, at least does some research on how she defines stakeholders. I literally think it's those who own the resources, own the project. And Jennifer, if I'm misinterpreting that, I apologize. But she talks about how your stakeholders are the ones that are the owners. They're the ones who really have a say in the project. And you need to serve them, and you really need to get them on your side because those stakeholders are the ones that are going to be approving, and supporting, and providing resources, and people, and certainly the money to get the thing done. All of that is very true. 

But I think the concept still applies to all of these three stakeholder groups. Shareholders, employees, and your customers. You need all of them onto your side as you're trying to execute on a particular project or initiative, and whatever the thing is you're trying to get done. The reason is, is because they are the ones that are going to decide if they are going to be on your side, being your cheering section, or if they're going to actually become a challenge to you. 

Step 2: Building relationships with your stakeholders:

Now, here's the question I've got for you, and this is the second step, is that for you to get those stakeholders on your side, you need to build and nurture relationships with them. Because the key thing that is going to sway them to be behind you, to be on your side, is if you build credibility, trust, and deliver results that they care about. Now, I could not emphasize or reiterate this enough. You need to build credibility, trust and deliver results that they care about. So the key here is that as they are seeing you serve their interests, and they're seeing that you've served others’ interests, and you've achieved good results, you've gotten stuff done, then they will begin to know you, and they will begin to like you, and they will begin to trust you. And when that happens, that's when you transition with your relationship from one of, hey, they know you, they like you, and trust you, into one where they invest in you. And Jennifer did a great job teaching me that online with her tutorials there. 

But I love that analogy. I love that counsel, that advice; that process of building and nurturing that relationship has got to begin. We talk about trust a lot, and I mentioned it here on the podcast a few times, but going into one where your stakeholders are investing in you is key. And I think there is the literal translation of that, which is like your boss and the other owners of resources. That's a literal investment into your projects. But you’ve got to think about your team as well. I mean, Simon Sinek, we've talked about this in other episodes. He talks about how your team, as you give blood, sweat, and tears for them, they're going to do the same for you. Right? And so there's a lot of different ways to tell the story here. But the truth is, you just need to serve their interests, and they need to know that you understand what their interests are. 

Adopting a mindset of shared success: 

So here's what I'd recommend to you as you're adopting this shared success mindset and you're beginning to nurture these relationships. 

Step 1: The most immediate thing that you need to do is you need to shut up, and you need to listen. So whatever initiative or project you are working on right now, go to those stakeholders, whether it is your boss--and I would say your boss is probably number one on that list--and the other key stakeholders that you've identified, and ask them what is most important to them about this project, what are their expectations? And if you've got a charter, great. If you don't, just understand what done looks like to you. How are we going to measure success with this initiative and get answers to those questions? Because that's going to paint this picture of how they are viewing the initiative. Don't take this, all of you very analytical, pragmatic folks, do not go to your stakeholders and get a list of things they want you to do. This is what we're trying to avoid. You're not taking orders from all these stakeholders, you're trying to understand them, because in the end, what's going to happen is that you need to rally efforts behind aligned interests and priorities. 

So let me give you an example here. As your understanding, just last week was talking to our vice president of professional services Hitesh Soni, and I serve his group. He's over professional services, and I enable his group. And I asked him, I said, “Hitesh, there's two ways my team serves your group, in my mind or from my perspective, and I want to get your thoughts on it. One, is we are enabling your consultants when they start to onboard and really get ramped up so that they are billable. Right? They are billable resources. And then the other part is that I got another part of my team who's trying to enable our customers, and a lot of where engagement happens with those customers as during the implementation process that your team manages. And so it would be in our interest or from our perspective, valuable for us to partner on that and for us to be really aligned as we're trying to drive success with our customers on those implementations, as one of our metrics is certainly time to go live with our implementation.”

So I’m having this conversation with him, and immediately, Hitesh articulated what was important to him. He articulated that ramp time for us consultants was important. And he said, “you know who's going to really drive that partnership with your customer enablement and our implementation projects? It’s going to be our PM group.” And so he said, “I'm going to set up a meeting for us to really talk and align there.” So just even a five minute conversation, we got really clear about what expectations were from that stakeholder. 

Step 2: As you are compiling what the expectations are, what the desires are, or the desired outcomes, what the needs are, what the pain points are, and how it can be measured, how success can be measured, how progress can be measured by those different stakeholder groups. Again, remember shareholders, and say those are your executives or your actual shareholders or, you know, your operational leadership team. That's actually a term we use here at Workfront. That leadership team and your company, those that are paying for the work, allocating the resources, that's one group. Your customers, that's another group. Your employees. And I would just add this to the employee piece, and that is your peers, right? Your peers, if you're a director, a VP, a manager, whoever, it's not just your team, assuming you execute the project team, but really it's going to be your peers. And it may be a cross-functional project team, which is great, but you've got to be cognizant of those peers that you have cross-functionally in the company, because as you understand what those interests and needs are, this is going to allow for this third part to happen successfully

Step 3: You're going to rally the efforts of your team as you're executing, and whatever team that is, whether it's functionally your team or its cross-functionally the project team you're leading out, you're going to rally efforts behind an aligned set of interests and priorities. And let me explain this. For this episode, I will link a download to an exercise that is actually in the Done Right book written by my CEO Alex Shootman. 

But essentially the exercise is understanding opportunities for alignment with these different stakeholder needs and interests. And we call it the sticky note exercise, and you can use this in a lot of different ways, but we're gonna talk about it in this format, and with this focus, and with this objective of aligning those interests. Essentially, what you're going to do is you're going to plot all of those--you and maybe a few others on your team--you guys are going to take what you understand to be the interests of these different stakeholders and you're going to put them on sticky notes. And just thrown them up there on a board, if you will, and you can just bucket them into customers, shareholders, and employees. And then you're going to just analyze together. What are you noticing? What are the themes or the patterns that are there when it comes to whatever the set of questions you were asking your stakeholders? Whether that is, hey, how are we gonna measure success, what does “done” look like to you? What are your expectations? What are your needs? There's a lot of different questions you can ask. But the point is, you want to take themes and patterns away, because that is actually going to set your priorities.

So we actually went through this, and my CEO went through this exercise when he first came to Workfront. When he first came to Workfront, he met with the executive team and he went through this exercise of essentially identifying what's most important according to these different stakeholders, and whittled it down to four themes, four defining objectives, if you will. And for our company, it was:

  1. Achieve sales and marketing excellence.

  2. Create category leading products.

  3. Drive value and adoption for our customers. 

  4. Live “getting it done, doing it right.”

That's our set of values in the company. But basically it just created this set of priorities for all the stakeholders that we're going to meet those needs at some level. And that is really a very helpful exercise, because I've done it and seen it happen and heard it at different levels, where it's like strategic direction of the company, these pillars of the company, like I just told you, or even just for a specific project. 

Step 4: It absolutely will help you to then go one, decide what you're going to do, and then two, go back to those stakeholders and as you're managing them through the course of the project, it's not rocket science in terms of how you can communicate with them. Meaning, you know what's important to them, and you decided to do something maybe that fits right into that quite nicely, or maybe goes right into the face of what they were wanting to see happen. But here's the thing, you can justify or explain or communicate the benefits and maybe the drawbacks, but really, maybe the vision of where you're going in their language, using their lens, because that second kind of task, that step that I gave you, which was to collect those interest to listen, you've got that. You've got that, and you've got a plan that's as aligned across those interests as much as possible. 

So I want to end today's episode by giving you a “rah-rah” speech that I'm stealing from one of the Rocky movies, this is actually one of the newer Rocky movies that came out like ten or so years ago. It was this weird storyline. But basically, Rocky, they were doing a simulation, I think with like video games, and they said that Rocky was gonna be like the best fighter in the world at that time. And so they did this event. And Rocky fought this guy who was half his age. But there's this really great storyline in this movie. I think it's like the movie is called Rocky, or is it called Rocky Balboa? I can't remember. Sorry guys. 

But the relationship with his son is kind of strained; they're not really close. And there's a scene in the movie where he goes to his son's workplace and he approaches him, and his son, you can tell he's kind of embarrassed of him because his dad's so famous. Right? Everyone recognizes who he is and he's kind of embarrassed by it. And his boss, Rocky's son's boss, is just, you know, bossing him around. I mean, he's got no respect for the kid, essentially. And Rocky sees this, and so when Rocky decides to fight this fighter who's half his age, he tells his son, and his son finally confronts him because he's had enough of, like his dad is such a popular, famous celebrity, he's kind of just tired of it. And this whole choosing to do this fight is impacting him. So he goes to his dad's restaurant, and he takes his dad outside and he gets after his dad about him doing this fight. And he asked him not to do it. He's like, I don't want to live in your shadow anymore, essentially. And this is what Rocky says. I'm not gonna do it justice. Go watch the movie. My acting skills are really bad. I'm going to read you the excerpt here. All right, this is what he says, this is Rocky to his son, 

“You ain’t gonna believe this but you used to fit right here. [he’s holding up his hand, pointing to the palm of his hand] I’d hold you up and say to your mother: ‘This kid is gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody ever knew.’ And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great watching, every day was like a privilege. Then the time came for you to be your own man and take on the world… and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard you started looking for something to blame… like a big shadow. 

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, go and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You are better than that!”

So I absolutely love that quote, and I'm just going to say this, you and I are bringing value to a company, to a team, and to our customers. And there's going to be a lot that stands in your way of being able to do your best work there. That stands in the way of you inspiring your team of driving alignment, whatever the challenges are, the risks that come. Right, the pushback that you get. 

There's going to be a lot of that, but the thing that you and I have got to remember, is that it is, as Rocky tells us, it is not about how hard you get hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. And that is absolutely what this episode is about. 

Guys, we've gotta understand our stakeholders, and we've got to serve them, and we've got to prioritize a set of initiatives if you will, that are going to bring value to those three groups that are going to help them thrive collectively. And that way we will actually be able to make the impact that we hope to make, that we aspire to make. But unless we're willing to listen and understand what their needs are, their desires are, their priorities are, we cannot keep moving forward. 

We'll catch you next time. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at donerightpodcast.org. The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, rate and review the show, it helps other people find us. See you next time.