I didn’t go to business school, but just working for one for five years taught me many great lessons about doing business. In just my second job after college, I was in charge of publications and marketing for the number-8-ranked UNC Graduate School of Business (now Kenan-Flagler Business School). It also didn’t hurt that my boss, the fantastically talented Gayle Saldinger, was a former McKinsey consultant who worked with my to develop my skills. That gig was a huge opportunity and to this day I joke that I should have paid them for all the great things I learned during my five years there.
One of the best strategies I picked up was how to manage multiple layers of hierarchy. At the B-School, almost every one of my projects had to pass through two channels: departmental and client. This meant gaining buy-in, gathering input and securing approval from my boss plus faculty and program staff. The experience taught me a lot about building consensus, establishing trust and creating effecting systems.
Here’s how I managed these often-times competing channels:
1. Invite as many people to the table as possible for the initial project meeting. And I’m talking as far up the food chain as you care to go – but certainly as high as your boss and maybe his or her boss.
2. Brainstorm your tails off for a while, making sure everyone’s heard. This is important for creating buy-in and ownership. Be sure to ask for must-haves in terms of messaging, resources, etc.
3. Engage the group in whittling down the project parameters. This step is critical because it allows everyone involved to be a part of the process of omitting certain concepts or elements – which comes in super-handy if somebody’s feelings get hurt later. Your goal is to leave the meeting with a project outline that everyone has said grace over.
4. Send that plan back to everyone who was in the meeting for a final review.
5. Pare the group down a bit for each consecutive meeting. Do this as frequently as possible until you’re down to only “essential” team members.
It took me about 9 months to get the process down, but once I did, it worked like a charm. Support for my team’s projects was solid, cooperation was improved, and client satisfaction was higher than it had been in years.
I left the School in 1993, but I still use this process whenever I lead a project for a client or volunteer opportunity. I invite you to try it, too.
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