Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Client and Customer Types - The Gate Keeper

The Gate Keeper is, in my opinion, the most destructive of all client types and one of the hardest to combat. She sets herself up as the sole channel of information between you and the client. And if she’s not the sole channel, she’s the main channel. Spotting them is not hard; basically they are the only person from the client you get to see on a regular basis. Everything has to flow through them, they must schedule every meeting, they must attend every meeting, and all your reports go to them before they are distributed within the client.

They are destructive because they slow everything down; they kill the spirit of partnership that is essential for a successful project. They are like a parasitic weed that turns a flowing river into a stagnant bayou. You can tell I don’t like them, been there, had the failure, got the gray hairs to prove it.

The first thing to address when faced with a gatekeeper is to establish why are they a gatekeeper? Is it because the client wants an at arms length relationship? Is it because they, the gatekeeper, want to increase their power? Is there a psychological, another of those dreaded ‘P’ words, reason behind this person’s need to control their environment? So, you need to establish what it is that is driving this person to this behavior. What is their motivation? What makes them tick? Only when you have discovered this can you work out how to handle them.

If they are insecure then you need to find out what is making them so and seek to re-assure them that this project will make them more secure.

If they are gatekeepers because of their managements wish to keep you at a distance then you need to address the reasons why they want to have that sort of relationship. It’s not a good sign that they would want this sort of relationship. It implies that either they don’t trust you or that this endeavor is not important to them. Partnership is usually critical to project success, so if they don’t want to partner then they are not concerned about the outcome; in this context their actions imply their intentions. Words are cheap: actions are the true measure.

If they are gatekeepers for personal power reasons then you have to find ways around them and/or co-opt them to your team.

A key method to circumvent these people is to establish early on a direct one on one contact between your subject matter experts and theirs. Ensure that you talk with the thought leaders at the clients on a regular basis with or without out the gatekeeper. Start off with open communications and keep them open, trust me once they get closed down, or never even opened up, you are in trouble. As with all things in life start off as you mean to go on. Just refuse to be shut down.

If you take over a project with a well established gate keeper it will be hard. But the chances are that you’ve been tasked as the replacement because the project is in trouble and the gatekeeper is one of the causes. Again the only way forward is to attempt to develop other channels of communication. One way is to request a full project review with the entire client team. Use that venue to establish contact and then keep it open. You don’t have to assault the position of the gatekeeper directly, that probably will be counter productive. In many cases the gatekeeper is well liked in their organization. You have to step lightly with these people.

One approach is to attempt to speed up the project, the gate keeper is usually the brake on progress, and offer to help with this by being on site more often. It is far easier to make contacts when you are on site than if your only there for periodic meetings. A lot can be established over a working lunch.

Another strategy is know as “getting rid of the grit in the machine”, in other words getting the gatekeeper moved. This can be a risky move for obvious reasons.

There are two ways to address this. One is to use your contacts within the client’s organization to either moderate behavior or move the person to another position. The suggestion would appear to have originated from within the customer’s management team so your hands will be clean if it is not successful. The second approach is to get a senior management meeting in which you demand the gatekeeper’s removal. This is a high risk play, for if it fails then the future will be bleak. Chances are that you’ll have to be moved off the project.

Sun Tzu said “He who knows how to use the direct and indirect approaches will win. Such is the art of maneuvering.”  Overcome any distaste you might feel over the use of the word maneuver. For, rest assured, other people will be maneuvering around or against you. So follow the old edict “do unto others before they do unto you”.

In general the indirect approach is the preferred one. For even if you are successful in getting the gate keeper removed by a direct request members of the client’s team will recognize this and you may only be storing up trouble for the future.

Just one word of caution, make absolutely sure your management team understand what your doing. The gatekeeper will complain about your activities, but if your management understands why you’re doing it then you should be fine.

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