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Order Up! Serving Internal Stakeholders


Stakeholder vs. Steak Holder: just another quirky homophone or perhaps an insightful business reminder? I believe it’s the latter, especially when it comes to our internal customers. Here’s why.

In large organizations, engineering serves manufacturing. Marketing serves sales. Design teams serve the supply chain. IT serves the entire organization. Successful leaders and teams have perfected the art of “serving” these internal stakeholders and providing a frequent flow of information to build new relationships and nurture existing ones. That’s a critical task, since these stakeholders expect beefy solutions delivered just the way they ordered them. Influencing decision-makers with a little sizzle doesn’t hurt either. Maybe steak holder and stakeholder are more closely connected than you originally thought.

Many of the leaders I coach have advanced to positions where working with internal stakeholders and sponsors takes up much of their days. They often wish they could just finish that exhausting task and get back to their day jobs. But guess what? That really is their day job. Serving those internal stakeholders at a 5-star level is essential before the overall company can successfully focus on serving its external customers.

So how can leaders balance the very-real need to serve these internal stakeholders along with the requirements to manage their own teams and reach the other goals upon which they will be measured? The process starts with fully understanding the inside customers they serve and knowing precisely what these people are ordering. That kind of insight keeps the process efficient. Then these leaders apply great finesse as they move forward to meet the internal customers’ needs. In other words, they know how to negotiate the best outcomes by applying the right behaviors at the right times, depending on the situation.

In his book How NASA Builds Teams, Dr. Charlie Pellerin documents the “4-D” leadership process that has enabled NASA executives and project teams to deliver exceptional service to internal stakeholders for more than a decade. Within that process, Pellerin describes 8 specific behaviors that drive the positive results.

  1. Create and articulate a clear vision

  2. Define clear roles and responsibilities

  3. Mine and communicate shared goals and interests

  4. Collaborate effectively, even during heavy conflict

  5. Remain committed to the outcome

  6. Face up to reality

  7. Maintain accountability

  8. Show respect and appreciation for others

These principles have an impressive track record. They worked at NASA, and they can work to build strong teams within your organization as well. The next time you think about serving your internal stakeholders, envision yourself as the steak holder. Deliver exactly as ordered, and you’re on track for some tasty results—and perhaps a big tip!

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