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I'm a member on a fairly new, highly technical team in a software company that has ~3000 employees. Our mandate is to go across the company to research performance problems (hardware/software/process) and make recommendations.

Because of this, we're reaching out to a lot of teams who have never spoken to us before, and I'm having a hard time getting people to understand that we're serious and are thoughtfully approaching these problems. Just about every time I make a recommendation, I am asked "Are you sure?", and each time after I spend some additional time explaining why I'm sure, the information is accepted and the recommendations are put in place.

My question is: How can I establish credibility not only for myself but also for my team - who does not have recognition? Should it be a top-down approach, where we speak to managers and get them on-board and let them educate their team about who we are and what we're doing or do I pursue a more grassroots approach and try to approach people unofficially to chat about the subjects so that they can understand where we're coming from?

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If you want credibility, your audience has to know you. You need to make a good introduction to everyone that you'll be working with. Your introduction should be earnest and honest.

One of your big challenges is going to be that you'll have to tell people why something that they did is wrong or needs to be fixed. Whenever anyone tells me that I'm wrong, I am much more apt to accept that I'm wrong when I trust the person that is talking to me. You'll need to establish some trust, since people don't really know what to expect from your team.

I think a top down approach to introductions is necessary, but you will also need to put in some one on one time with the people that you deal with on a frequent basis. Establishing these kinds of relationships can be difficult, but I find that being very open and honest will help pave the way.

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Back in the olden days (more years ago than I care to consider), I was a management analyst doing efficiency studies for a large government agency. Every two or three weeks we went to another location and had to establish ourselves with a group of people we had never met before. I did this for 9 years. This is very similar to your situation.

First, you can get no cooperation at all without management cooperation. So first you need to go to the manager of the area you are looking at and give him a presentation about your group and what you hope to accomplish for him. Focus the presentation on what is in it for him. If you have senior management buy-in (and I presume you do or they wouldn't have created the group), make sure to mention who is supporting the effort.

Get the manager's OK to talk directly to the employees in the areas you are interested in. Tell them that this is their chance to fix the stuff that has been annoying them for years. Get them to tell you where they see the problem areas. Get them to point you to where to find what you need. The key to being accepted by the employees is to listen to them and their ideas. Do not make suggestions to them or try to dictate to them. They work with this stuff every day, they know where the problems are, they just have trouble getting anyone to do anything about them. If you act like you are the only experts - here to tell them how to do their jobs, they will fight you tooth and nail.

The single most critical thing you can do to gain trust is to listen to people and take what they have to say seriously.

Never under any circumstance only talk to managers. Managers do not know the process, but they think they do. The people who actually do the work know alot of details about the processes that the managers won't think to tell you. Some of those details are critical.

Now the really hard part of gaining the trust is that they will be looking to see if what you are doing means they will lose their jobs. It's especially tough if that is exactly what it means. So you need to start having a track record for actually improving things not making them worse before many of the employees will open up to you about the real problems. So start with some low-hanging fruit and get some accomplishments under the team belt. Make sure these things are things that fix long-standing issues and especially are things that do not involve reducing personnel (even if you later intend to do so).

  • Thankfully we're not working completely as consultants and I'm not going to have to recommend reductions in personnel (at least not yet), but your points are very well taken. My usual method to addressing problems is to start with the people facing it every day (who are usually not management) so getting in front of management is going to be a new thing for me. Thanks for the information and thoughts! – Sean Long Jun 6 '13 at 21:40
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How do I establish credibility in a new team?

With competence; and lots of it.


  • Do your work and do it well.
    • People will notice, and you will become credible.
  • Try to always tell the truth.
    • Dishonesty can negate competence and diminish your credibility.
1

The situation you describe sounds exactly what I'd hope for as a new face in an established workplace. I'd be concerned at not being questioned more than the trusted stalwarts; as much as I'd be concerned at being dismissed or ignored, which isn't happening.

To build a rapport, when questioned you could respond with something like "I'm glad you asked, since this is important - and if you're happy for me to take the time then I can explain my reasoning in more detail". Follow up with "Is there anything else on your mind?"

That is, unless you're not confident in your opinions. In which case, inviting comment before people feel the need to question you demonstrates a degree of humility but also a pro-active attitude. You're still leading the conversation, but by asking for your colleagues' input you're showing that you aren't likely to jeopardise their work by unilaterally doing something they disagree with.

  • I'm not really a new face, it's just a new team. So with that, I'm at a little bit of an advantage. You're right, though, that sounds like a great way to build some rapport and also establish a reputation as people who really want to engage in discussions rather than change things. – Sean Long Jun 6 '13 at 21:39
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every time I make a recommendation, I am asked "Are you sure?", and each time after I spend some additional time explaining why I'm sure, the information is accepted and the recommendations are put in place.

I'm not sure this is a real problem for a new team doing something new. They do accept your solutions afterall. If I've been working on a project for quite some time and someone walks in with a recommendation, I'm likely to ask questions. I don't know what industry you are in, but there are grey areas between right and wrong ways of doing things.

Think of your group as a consulting firm. Once a team adopts your recommendations, try to get them to create some sort of referal for you. Post it on a website, email it, create a newsletter, do something to spread this information.

Gaining creditbility in technical areas takes time. These other groups care enough about what they do to question your suggestions. Would you prefer they accept them blindly? Isn't it better for everyone if they give you their point of view and you possibly come up with a third solution together?

In a large company, this could take years. You want buy-in from upper management, but they are in no position to go to their subordinates and "force" them to believe your team has all the ansers.

  • You're absolutely right. It's not a terrible place to be, all things considered, and at least they're asking questions instead of just silently ignoring everything we're saying. I do also try to approach the problems with their help, too, because even though I know a little about a lot of stuff, they know the actual problems they're facing and very often have very good ideas. – Sean Long Jun 6 '13 at 21:38
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Introducing your team through presentations will be useful. You might also put together a 1-2 page overview that introduces your team members and contains accomplishments--basically a resume. You want to sell your team.

Beyond that, and something that I don't think anyone has touched on yet, is to use existing networks in the company. When you've successfully finished with one team, ask them who they work with or who they think you should work with next. You want them to recommend your team to another group.

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Although this answer can depend a lot on the company's culture, if I were you, I'd :

  1. Make a list of your teams recommendations that have been implemented so far and make a presentation about the impact analysis. Probably a before/after comparison of performance and other metrics.

  2. Explain the benefits the improved product/project which the company at large and the team that is building it and the customers will see.

  3. For such change management always start from the managers. Even if you started at the grass root level, as you call it, no grass root level person will implement a change without getting an approval. So you might as well start from the top.

Credibility, as they say, is gained only with time and repeated shows of excellence.

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