In any business situation, it is always about people; indeed, people make or influence decisions. Stakeholder management is key to effective business operations and, a fortiori, effective change initiatives.
The first commandment of stakeholder management is communication: understanding others and their point of view before trying to influence them, propose opportunities for improvement or solutions.
Engaging all relevant stakeholders
Stakeholders include everyone with a stake in the business, change, project or activity:
- Across roles: from end-users to managers and leaders.
- Across the lifecycle: in the context of the product or service lifecycle, from upstream to downstream across the product lifecycle.
- Across functions: from business to product strategy office, design, development, engineering to manufacturing, suppliers, and enabling functions: finance, HR, procurement, etc.
- Across the enterprise: internal and external contributors, including suppliers and customers.
Managing both supporters and detractors
Getting feedback and interacting with both supporters and potential detractors is an essential part of the learning process of any change journey, acting on feedback and different, sometimes conflicting, perspectives; that’s what business change and product lifecycle are about:
- Business effectiveness: doing the right thing
- Process efficiency: doing things right
- Quality: managing quality throughout requirement realisation
- Risk mitigation: cost avoidance, scalability, compliance, etc.
It is important to continuously align stakeholders towards the same goals, building a collaborative framework between business and customers, both internal and external customers as relevant to the scope. Looking at belief systems and personal frustrations help identifying the needs to educate end-users and change leads on common problem statement, brainstorming new solutions, but also understand how they work or would prefer to work.
- Supporters are more likely to contribute positively and learn faster, helping advocate new ways of working.
- Detractors might have a different opinion due to past experience or other beliefs; it is important to understand their point of view, why they challenge things, what and why they would have done differently, how they wish to add get involved, etc.
Detractors might have a point: they see things differently, they might disrupt or influence others, they might turn change initiatives upside down. They can play a key role in any business change project to keep everyone ‘honest’ about expectations. Obviously, no-one wants too many detractors; especially if they come across very negatively or in a very challenging way. It is important to manage such detractors directly, not trying to by-pass or silo them away. Like for supporters, it is important to understand detractors’ agenda, especially their personal agenda.
It is worth noting that when perceived detractors finally turn into neutral stakeholders or even promoters, they can become the most supportive allies.
There are many published models to map stakeholders, such as power vs interest matrix, levels of involvement vs satisfaction, legitimacy vs efficiency or speed, etc. It is good to use a few complementary models (not just one) as they can help with multiple perspectives, and go beyond trying to put ‘people in boxes’.
Stakeholder management is a continuous activity. People sometimes change opinion when they get involved, they might change role within a team or project, take more ownership or move on to another part of the business. This can happen anytime, such as half-way through the delivery of a change initiative; hence the need to communicate by several means and formats, to re-align expectations on an ongoing basis—embedding this in a rigorous and consistent communication plan.
It is often easier to engage with people in difficult matters after getting to know them personally, outside governance meetings or formal settings: understanding their working style, their triggers, what decisions they make or influence most, what insight or data they use to inform such decisions, and how they react when challenged.
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