Building Key Stakeholder Buy-in: Don’t Hire Without It!

You’ve got a dynamite candidate who is eager to work for your organization. He or she has the right background, expertise, people skills and other traits necessary to hit the ground running. But this scenario doesn’t always turn out as hoped because of one factor: key stakeholders aren’t on board.

Building rapport within your organization at times like this is a crucial step that requires a delicate balance. Prior to hiring, you need to identify the key stakeholders who can influence or impede the new hire’s success. And you need to learn how you can solicit input while continuing to spearhead the hiring process.

Generally speaking, most business leaders are focused and well-disposed, and the conversations will be straightforward. But we have seen instances where legal professionals have been hired with all good intentions, only to encounter resistance from sales, marketing and/or finance/accounting stakeholders whose buy-in was not sought.

Conversely, conversations with key stakeholders can smooth the path for the newly hired professional’s momentum and traction. Buy-in garnered during the interview process parlays into buy-in during the transition to the on-boarding process. When people have invested in a legal candidate, that is the attorney they have chosen to advise them on business matters. Two things happen: the “they-have-a-horse-in-the-race” phenomenon begins, and trust and rapport building starts to develop. Business professionals are too prudent for do-overs if they have vetted someone. (See article, “Maintaining Momentum: Definitive Strategies To Keep Your Legal Recruiting Process on Track.”)

How To Determine Who Is a Key Stakeholder

Your role, in this regard, is deciding on the key stakeholders to be consulted and the scope of the input you are seeking. These questions are helpful in identifying those to be contacted:

  • Do they have input on the candidate’s performance or evaluation?
  • Can they influence the candidate’s ability to be promoted or determine his or her bonus?
  • Does your department’s success or evaluation depend in part on the candidate’s performance?
  • Which client groups or teams would the candidate support? Typical examples include accounting, finance, sales, business development, human resources and business units.
  • What is the onboarding process in your organization? And which stakeholders share responsibility for that role in your department?
  • Is this a replacement or a newly created position, or somewhere in between? If it is a replacement, seeking input from key stakeholders about their experience with the lawyer who left can be very instructive and can inform your hiring, particularly if the lawyer was well-regarded and there are expectations about who will succeed best in the role.

Of course, it’s important to know the answers before the candidate is hired; once the person is on board, you will have other work to do to ensure his or her success. In the early stages of the hiring process, it’s helpful to ask key stakeholders what they are looking for in an ideal candidate. Here are some questions to pose:

  • ŸWhat core competencies are needed for success in this position? What critical practice areas should the legal professional possess?
  • What types of prior experience, or company or industry background, would be successful in this type of position?
  • How do key stakeholders see their team or themselves interacting with this individual? Is this an opportunity for you to restructure the position by eliminating, streamlining or adding functions to the position description? (See article, “Master the Art of the Interview: Hire the Right Lawyer.”)

An added advantage to seeking these answers is that interviewers will be better prepared and will be able to provide a more positive candidate experience. This approach may also reduce decision-making time by stakeholders as you have agreed on the ideal traits up front. And, you are less likely to be blindsided by an 11th-hour concern.

Nuts and Bolts of Your Interactions With Key Stakeholders

You also will want to think through how much say the key stakeholders will have in the hiring decision, which ones will be contacted first, who will reach out to them, how frequently you will keep them abreast of developments and how you envision the scope of their involvement.

It’s best to know how stakeholders have been consulted in the past in your organization and department, and whether that method needs to be adjusted. Previous practices will be the stakeholders’ frame of reference for this hire.

Soliciting input and feedback from stakeholders during the interview process can be achieved through individual or collective conversations, or creation of a form (depending on the number of people involved) or a portal where stakeholders can share their impressions and feedback on candidates. We help our clients set up streamlined evaluation tools that allow stakeholders to easily provide input on a range of criteria, including professionalism, legal competencies, communication skills and cultural fit.

We are not suggesting that all stakeholders’ needs can be accommodated, but a dialog and an understanding generally improves buy-in once the person has been hired. We know of many situations where buy-in from supporting departments has been tremendously helpful in the new hire’s onboarding, productivity and performance.

And that will reflect on you. You will be judged by how you reach out and include key stakeholders, the range of perspectives they represent and how transparent the process appears to those participants and others.