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Relationship Mapping: Because Coffee with Bob is Not a Strategy

You check your Enterprise System to get real-time inventory numbers and up-to-the-minute sales figures. But how do you track your progress on building relationships with colleagues and key stakeholders?

If your answer is, “Oh, Bob and I grabbed some coffee last month,” it might be time for an alternative that’s more in line with your other precisely calculated metrics.

I highly recommend relationship mapping!

Relationship Mapping is a dashboard-style spreadsheet and visual action plan that can guide you in strengthening your relationships with the internal and external stakeholders who have the power to impact your success. Just like you’d use GPS or a map to find your way around a new city, relationship mapping helps you navigate the complex “human landscape” of your organization. Might sound a bit odd, but my coaching clients who have invested the time to implement this strategy report that it definitely pays off.

Here’s an example, plus 4 steps to help you create your own relationship map.

Relationship Map for Mario

Identify the key people who need to know about your role within the organization and exactly what value you provide. These constituents or key stakeholders might include your boss, your boss’ peers, key division heads, regional peers, and cross-functional leaders. External stakeholders like customers and strategic partners should also be represented. List all of these people on the rows of your spreadsheet map.

2. Evaluate and grade those relationships.

No one needs to see this map but you, so be brutally honest here. As you assess the “current health” of your relationship with each person on the list, color-code the names using a basic traffic-light approach.

Highlight a name in red if your relationship with that person seems adversarial or if you don’t know each other yet. Use a yellow highlight if the status is unclear or you haven’t really developed a positive relationship yet. If you have a solid, mutually beneficial connection with someone on the list, highlight that name in green. Your goal is to move all of these key relationships into the green-highlight zone—and keep them there.

3. Populate the map with milestones and specific dates.

Begin by looking at your calendar to identify events that create a natural opportunity for collaborating with these stakeholders. Mark those on top of the columns on your grid. Then add additional target dates for contacts in between to create a steady flow of personal connection or touch-points over the next 6-12 months.

4. Make relationship-building a priority and monitor the impact.

Reach out to each of your key stakeholders at least once before each target date listed, and chart your progress on the map. Use the spaces on the grid to track how much time you spend with a person during each interaction. It takes time and effort to build relationships, so upgrading the Yellows and Reds to the green category will naturally require more of your time. Search for ways to better serve them, while staying in touch with the Greens to remain top-of-mine. (Yeah, I know… You’d much rather hang out more with your Greens. I get it, but remember the objective here.)

Need a reason to check in when there’s no real reason? Start by asking open-ended questions about their current projects. Listen closely, and think collaboratively. What’s really important to them? How well are you or your team currently serving them? What information could you share or actions could you take that might be helpful? Reciprocate by sharing your current challenges, potentially asking for their advice or recommendations. When you consistently approach these contacts in a consultative, servant-leader kind of way, you will inevitably build trust and respect.

When possible, opt for in-person meetings rather than emails. Schedule breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings to connect with extended conversation in a more casual setting. For more ideas, you might try asking your colleagues in sales and account management. They typically spend a lot of time strategizing about how to build relationships and might be willing to share some of their expertise. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to meet with the VP of Sales for coffee, doesn’t it?

Consult your map weekly to stay on track, and add new constituents as you begin working on different assignments. Reevaluate your relationships quarterly to monitor your progress. Can you turn all of them into Greens? (Can you keep them there?) The beauty of the map is visually seeing the state of your relationships at any moment and, more importantly, allowing you to quickly refocus your investment of time and attention on the ones that can generate the best ROI.

Have you ever used relationship mapping? I’d love to hear about your experience and results.

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