What sort of relationships do you have with decision makers?

Would you say your relationships with key decision makers are ‘adult to adult’ or ‘parent to child’? Or worse still, ‘master to slave’?


Progressive Insight teams say that they are on a journey from the model of a remote service team, to a much closer business partnership model with their key stakeholders or decision makers.


They want to influence decision makers and their decisions. They want to be included early in discussions about business challenges and to be valued for their opinions, experience and input. They don’t want to be called in late in the day, with insights merely being used to rubber-stamp decisions that have already been taken.


“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Mary Oliver, American Poet


It can be difficult to get closer to decision makers, especially when they are senior, with full diaries and overloaded inboxes. How do you cut through?


This is a tough challenge for an experienced Insight leader, and doubly difficult for some of your team members, who may be more at home when they are embroiled in sophisticated research projects or in analysis and modeling.


But Insight isn’t going to make a difference for your organisation unless you build the inter-personal skills and relationships required to influence decision makers.


What sort of relationships should you be looking for with your decision makers or stakeholders, and how do you build them?


Best practice is to aim at becoming trusted advisers to the senior decision makers in your organisation. This is the pinnacle of a mutually valued and respected relationship, as outlined in the book ‘The Trusted Advisor’ by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. It’s primarily written to guide external consultants, but it’s also highly relevant for aspiring Insight teams.


Maister, Green and Galford say that your trustworthiness is built by conveying your credibility and reliability, with the right tone of business intimacy. However, all this can be undermined if you are seen to be self-orientated, rather than having your stakeholder or decision maker’s best interests at heart.


Let’s unpack this a little. Your trustworthiness is based on your:


  • Credibility – your words help build your credibility. What do you say to inspire confidence and encourage decision makers to ensure Insight is represented in all key decision making forums? What can you share to ensure a customer-centric outcome?
  • Reliability – your actions demonstrate your value-add. Don’t over-promise and make sure you always deliver as promised. 
  • Intimacy – this is about rapport-building and inter-personal skills. Not all decision makers will want the same level of small-talk, but they will appreciate an open and honest approach.
  • Self-orientation, or lack of it - make sure you always focus on your decision maker’s agenda – what do they need and when? When talking to them, don’t get subsumed in your analytical journey or the technical detail, if they are not that way inclined. Focus on the direction shown by the insight, along with the potential benefits and associated risks. This will help your decision maker move forward. Keep the detail in your back pocket in case it’s required.


Relationship building is the key to extending your influence on decision makers. You can’t make someone trust you at work, any more than you can make someone love you at home. But you can pay attention to these aspects to build trust and to work towards that Trusted Adviser status.



Further information

If you would like to find out more about how to improve your Insight team’s capability to build relationships and influence decision makers, our Best Practice report Insight Management to Influence Decision Makers provides detailed guidance.


Invest in Insight this Spring

Invest in Insight this Spring and investigate the ways in which your Insight team could benefit from the IMA’s tailored training. We offer one day workshops on influencing decision makers and many other topics, and if you’re not sure where to start, we will benchmark your Insight team for free as part of a 100 day corporate membership trial. Please contact us for more details.