Roles in Engagement

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Ranganathan Jagannathan
General Manager - Projects

While the intent of the article is to cover various roles that we come across in Customer Engagement, I came across this nice blog on "three minute rule" that can help in gaining customer understanding -
I will briefly highlight the typical roles that one comes across in engaging with the customers, with a view to understanding and satisfying their expectations in any sort of customer engagement:

Decision Makers
In any organization these are the key players who have a major influence on the decisions that the firms make and by focusing on them, consultants can make a positive difference to achieve the desired end result. If not, the job becomes difficult. Hence one must take responsibility to engage the decision makers and get their attention to whatever that we are pursuing "it could be anything from instilling an idea to solution to best practices. In order to achieve this, one has to get into the client's shoes and understand their requirements ('walk a mile in their shoes' as John Stone has highlighted in his post on Business Empathy). Effective consultants relate to the needs of the clients in a succinct manner.

While trying to convince the senior management and other decision makers, focus must be on the larger good of the solution. While engaging senior management, one must focus on the impact of the decision on the overall corporation. In most cases the needs of the unit and the needs of the corporation are directly connected. In some cases they are not - in such cases, establish the connection and convince the management of the benefits to be accrued.

It is also important to present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of the alternate options, besides highlighting the benefits. Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy. The acceptance of one option may mean the rejection of another one and so the decision makers need to have the opportunity cost of a decision, as something may have to be sacrificed in making a decision.

The role of an Analyst is important in software projects especially in large customer organizations. They complement the real functional users by providing inputs on solution / To-be Process that is in line with future vision of the company. They can be an effective bridge between software consultants and the Process Owners / Users. The goal of the Process Owner is to get what they want very quickly and the goal of the software consultants is to give the Process Owner what they want. This may lead to not taking the needs of all users of the system into account in a holistic manner, thereby missing detailed definition of the requirements and many of the Process Owner's requests may not make good business sense as it may just to relate to today's problem. They may not emphasis on long term strategic goals that the business wants to achieve via the Implementation and thus lose sight of the overall business objectives. The Business Analyst can bring structure and formalization of requirements into this process, which may lead to increased foresight among Process Owners. They help in breaking down communication barriers between Stakeholders and software Consultants.

They are the final and ultimate users of the solution. The term end user usually implies an individual with a relatively low level of computer expertise and is the central piece of whole development. The greatest of products with most complex of built-in features can fail if only the end users are not able to easily relate to the system and hence their ease of use is the key to success of any implementation. There is the whole field of User Centric Design which tries to optimize the user interface around how people can, want, or need to work, rather than forcing the users to change how they work to accommodate the software developers approach.

Gate Keepers
Gate keepers may not value add but they regulate the flow of information, for they have the authority to decide which information will go forward, and which will not. They are very important and status reports need to be sent to them. The gatekeeper is the person who decides what shall pass through each gate section, of which, in any process, there are several. Gate keeping is vital in communication planning and almost all communication planning roles include some aspect of gate keeping. The gatekeeper's choices are a complex web of influences, preferences, motives and common values. Gate keeping is inevitable and in some circumstances it can be useful, especially in change management.

They influence decision makers, by the informal power they hold. They usually give time easily and are candid about their feedback, have more patience than the normal user to try & test the product or service, help fine-tune the solution. Therefore, it is important to reach out to these people fast, create a feedback channel, interact with them regularly and improve on the offering based on their inputs. Keep the influencers interested and influence them by way of fine-tuning the offering, making it sticky for them to talk and promote the offering further.

A Coach can help one find out about roles played by various users and help in developing relationship. "One of the big benefits of a coach is that they aren't tied to the organization, your friends, or anyone else," says Washington, D.C.-based executive coach Linda Finkle. "They are tied to you only, so they support what you want and where you want to go. Even our families, who want the best for us, can't be unbiased or totally objective. What you do or do not do impacts them, whether it's positive or negative. A coach is not impacted by your decisions, your wins or losses, or anything else." The role of the coach is not to represent specific company needs or interests. "The perspectives they provide, the alternatives discussed, and everything else has no agenda except to support the coachee," she says. Harvard Business School professor Thomas DeLong calls them the "truth speakers"...

I hope this helps the consultants in mapping the players in an organization and steering the engagement in a meaningful and effective manner. Here are few generic tips on engagement:

  • Make it a practice to take notes – This will force the talker to be attentive and focused
  • Be courteous – Avoid having the card in the purse in the back pocket
  • Maintaining and Removing eye contact is a powerful way of controlling the discussion
  • Be generous in making compliments and appreciation in both oral and written communication
  • While conversing, seat forward in the chair, which would indicate enthusiasm
  • In a group meeting, distribute the roles and responsibilities amongst the attendees
  • Modulation of voice is important and it is to be ensured everyone in the room can hear it
  • Always summarize the discussion in the end of a discussion or meeting

Do post your feedback with additional insights and comments...