When you must step into others' turf

Dear Joan:
I have recently been appointed marketing manager of the firm I work for. My new duties include crossing functional lines of a dozen departments to direct and implement our marketing programs. Two of the individuals I deal with are close personal friends, who prefer to deal [with each other] directly rather than following the "chain of command" through my office. In order to be effective in my position, I must have the cooperation of these gentlemen on a day-to-day basis and need to assure them it is necessary to respect the "chain of command" for the overall success of our business. How can I be assertive and obtain their cooperation without appearing aggressive?

You have touched on a significant problem in companies today. That is, how to get cooperation from people over whom you have no direct control.

As the need to meet competition grows, departments are finding it necessary to pull tightly together to get more done in less time with better quality. 

New product teams and task forces frequently consist of members from several departments. Line and staff functions have been forced into more communication. And office automation is connecting us directly to information and to one another. 

Gone are the days when Production seldom talked to Marketing, or Sales rarely communicated with Service. 

There are several things that could be barriers to you in this situation: You are new in your job and haven't built trust, influence and credibility with your new network. 

If the position is newly created, your colleagues aren't used to working with someone in your capacity. If you did have a predecessor, he or she may have allowed these two men, and others, to operate too informally without central marketing control. 

The fact that you are a woman may, or may not, have some bearing on your male colleagues' reluctance to go through you in "the chain of command." 

Your status level may be lower in the organizational hierarchy than these co-workers, thus putting you in a less powerful position. 

With all these barriers in mind, let's examine your options:

  • Eliminate the phrase "chain of command" from all verbal and written communications. It refers to power through authority and is applicable only in a boss/subordinate relationship.
  • Constantly inform these two friends, and all other people from whom you need cooperation, of the impact their cooperation has on end sales. If people understand why they need to cooperate, they will usually do so.
  • Show them what you do with the data they provide, explain how you have followed up on their suggestions and tactfully describe what can happen if you are left out of the information loop.
  • Meet face to face as often as possible. Rather than sending a formal memo, try to personalize your dealings with these men. Because they seem to prefer an informal way of sharing information, they will probably warm up to this style of interaction. You may want to build in more structure later after rapport and trust is built.
  • If you perceive that this problem exists with more people than just these two, you may need to market yourself before you can market your products.
  • Schedule lunches with people from whom you need cooperation and sell your marketing ideas, goals and strategies. Solicit their ideas on how they can help you accomplish these things. Always emphasize the success of the business rather than your personal success.
  • Have regularly scheduled meetings that are attended by people important to the company's marketing goals. The format for these meetings could range from sharing and discussing information, to brainstorming solution ideas for marketing problems. However, if you use meetings, make sure they are informative and worthwhile for all parties.
  • Be direct, yet diplomatic about what you need. You've already partially scripted in your letter a perfectly logical way to state it assertively without being aggressive: "In order to be effective in my position, I need your help and cooperation on a day-to-day basis to achieve the overall success of our business."
    • You could go on to say, "I respect the fact that you are close friends and enjoy dealing directly with each other, but it is causing some problems. (Explain bottom-line effects.)
    • "I know you're both probably not even aware of this. That's why I thought I'd explain the situation and ask for your help."
  • Throughout the process, keep your manager informed and be sure to ask for his or her advice. The coaching you receive will help you understand the political side of this issue.
  • This approach will help you earn respect and cooperation that will get you more mileage than forcing the issue.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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