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5 steps to find stakeholders and key collaborators who will champion your ideas.

There will always be people who are skeptical of design. Great design leaders focus on early adopters and executives who will be your champions.

Let’s face it, a big part of a design leader’s job is introducing new ways to work or changing how companies think about problems and solutions. IRL, introducing new mindsets and practices can be challenging, especially when your company has done things a certain way for a long time.

While your ultimate goal may be to help transform a company into one that’s customer-led or human-first, it’s super important to pick and choose your partners strategically along the way. You need to find your allies, your sidekicks.

The conventional and often suggested approach is to “find yourself an executive champion or sponsor!”. Three significant factors tend to complicate this in the real world:

If you want to try new things, build a case of evidence that those things work, and are looking to find yourself an executive sponsor, I suggest a slightly different approach. Start with sidekicks. That is to say, begin experimenting now with those who are less influential but willing to try new things with the idea of gaining executive trust along the way. My favorite way to do it is with a simple 2x2 grid.

The Stakeholder Map; Find your sidekicks to find your champions

Stakeholder analysis is a great way to select strategic partners. Utilizing a two-by-two grid, you can quickly map who has power/influence in your workplace and who is willing to experiment with new ways of working. As you may have guessed, this particular version is called Stakeholder Mapping.

In my adapted version of the Stakeholder Map the purpose of this plot is two-fold: 1) To understand stakeholders who will advocate for design when designers aren’t in the room, and 2) To find “less visible” projects to work on to build case studies of success.

The grid is divided into four sections:

5 steps to find key stakeholders who will champion your ideas and solutions.

There are five steps to take to complete the analysis.

  1. CAPTURE the PPOs Power resides not just with individuals but also within teams and projects. Write down the People, Projects, and Organizations you’re working with. One person, project, or org per post-it.
  2. MAP the PPOs. Once you've captured the People, Projects, and Organizations you're working with, place them on the stakeholder map according to how much power they have and how willing they are to try new things.
  3. Identify your Sidekicks. When trying new processes or methods, look to experiment with those who do not have a lot of power. The last thing you want is failure to be VERY public and affect the bottom line. You want to test new approaches and build a business case that the approach works before pitching it to those who have power. Sidekicks are often stuck but highly motivated to try something new. They need your help! Sidekicks are the ideal partners to test hypotheses and build case studies with.
  4. Identify your Sponsors vs. Challengers. Sponsors will advocate for you when you're not in the room, but they want to see evidence something is working before trying it with a large, important initiative. Challengers are influential but not motivated to change until they see others succeeding or when a Champion takes the lead. You'll likely need to work with both of them, and it's important to know who you want to be your sponsor.
  5. Identify who you’ll say “No” to. If there’s one pattern I’ve seen consistent from company to company, it’s that the majority of people what to help each other. The reality is we are often limited by the time and budget to do so. When it comes to prioritizing work, sometimes we need to say “No” with kindness. Some colleagues want your help, are not motivated to change how they do things, and don’t have the influence to push for needed organizational change. These are the people to say “No” to.

After this quick analysis, you should have a relatively quick idea of who you might try and work with regarding new processes or practices. And, hopefully, you feel a little more confident in those decisions.

Time and time again, I’ve found sidekicks to be the key to developing trust across an organization at all levels. They’re the people we likely work with day to day, and if we can have positive collaborations together, we can pitch and sell the value of the work together. That’s really what this is all about. Finding willing partners to try new things with, doing great work, and advocating to do more work with senior leaders.


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