Kelly Vincent, senior director of product management at eBay Inc., recommends that you start with the basics.
“The biggest skill is something we all learned in kindergarten: Be a really active listener. You’re not going to learn what people think by talking at them,” Vincent said.
That skill has served her well while managing the development of hundreds of hardware and software products throughout her career. She recently joined representatives from companies like Johnson & Johnson and NVIDIA as part of the “When She Speaks: Women in Leadership” series in Silicon Valley.
“In the beginning of my career, I thought it was all about building great products, but it’s actually learning how to develop influence,” Vincent told the women gathered for a panel discussion on Feb. 14. That sentiment was echoed by the other panelists: Tonie Hansen, director of corporate social responsibility and sustainability at NVIDIA; Karen Pieper, director of synthesis at Tabula; Dawn Torres, project manager at Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems; and facilitator Lucie Newcomb, CEO of The NewComm Global Group.
Panelists took questions from the audience to cover a number of tricky workplace issues and offer advice for anyone navigating situations like overcoming resistance to new ideas and delivering bad news.
Hansen said one approach that really works in building influence is to act as a change agent with a focus on solving problems.
“You have to have a broader business skill set and know the company’s goals and build from that,” she said. “Always come back to the business’s goals.”
Pieper emphasized the need for persistence in the face of organizational resistance: Stick to your vision, no matter how long it takes. “Whenever there’s a step, however small, in the direction you’re trying to go, take it.”
When it comes to being the bearer of bad news, panelists stressed the importance of connecting with those affected.
“Make a personal connection,” said Torres, who relies on “the good old phone” instead of email whenever possible. “Put the business aside for a minute and connect on a personal level. The human touch is a huge factor in influence.”
A key to getting results, panelists said, is to establish clear goals for every project and give people the freedom to be creative in solving business problems.
“Every buyer that comes on our site, they have to know eBay has their back,” Vincent said. “Don’t micromanage the ‘how’ in the way something happens and they will come up with amazing solutions.”