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How to improve stakeholder management

September 21, 2020

Engaging effectively with stakeholders throughout projects can make the difference between success and failure

Why does stakeholder management matter?

Engaging with stakeholders from the planning stage of a project onwards means you can develop a common understanding of the scope, timelines, budget and resources you'll need from the start.

With that in place, by continuing to talk to your stakeholders at the right moments, your project should proceed along a more predictable path, with fewer unexpected changes of course or stress points – a better experience for everyone involved.

"Find the appropriate balance of competing claims by various groups of stakeholders. All claims deserve consideration but some claims are more important than others." Warren G. Bennis, leadership expert

"For the most part today, you can’t really think about teams independent of their networks, sub groups and integrated leadership systems."Jon R. Katzenbach, expert on informal organisations

Why is it challenging?

It’s easy to see your stakeholders as one homogenous group, but they won’t see themselves that way. Each of your stakeholders will envisage success in their own way.

Reconciling the different interests of very different stakeholders can be difficult. For your team to function well and without unnecessary stress, it’s essential to find ways to plan for all your different stakeholders’ expectations – the earlier in the project, the better.

Sometimes politics can creep into the complexity of managing stakeholders. This is particularly the case if there’s not a shared vision and purpose.

Stakeholders change. The interests of stakeholders will change and at times you will have to deal with entirely new people that are critical for your team’s success.

Research by Performance Coaching International estimates that:

At least 50% of the variance in project success rate is attributable to the people related factors. Issues associated with sponsorship, stakeholders, leadership, experience, communications and teams are not new but are all major contributors From Stakeholder Management – Why projects fail, by Performance Coaching International

Identifying stakeholders

Find out who your stakeholders are. Your stakeholders include anyone who has an interest, or believes they have an interest, in the outcome of the work you are doing.

A good first step is to make a list of who your stakeholders are and why each one has an interest in the project. Ask across the team for perspectives on this.

Prioritising stakeholders

Not all stakeholders have the same level of interest in the project, and some may only be involved in certain stages. Some will have more power to advance or block the progress of your project.

Use a stakeholder mapping tool to create a matrix where you map your stakeholders in terms of their points of interest and their level of influence. Saberr's CoachBot has exercises for this.

This will let you answer some important questions -whose support do we need on this project? How can we convince them to support this project?

Communicating to stakeholders

With a stakeholder map in place, you’re in a good position to start working out who you need to talk to and when.  Your stakeholder communication plan should list the key stakeholders you need to communicate with, the type of communication they prefer, how often they will need updating and level of detail to give them.

A good communication plan indicates above all that you are in control. If your stakeholders are reassured of this, they are less likely to make unpredictable demands or change requests and your workload as a team is likely to be less stressful.

Share experiences

One of the best ways to align stakeholder interests with your own is not to send reports, but to actually experience things together. How can you invite stakeholders to experience the challenges, opportunities and context that you face?

Develop relationships

One of the greatest mistakes in managing stakeholders might be to view the exercise as a process rather than an exercise in relationship building.

Ultimately if your relationships are strong and there’s mutual trust, you’ll be able to have tougher, more honest conversations.

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