Think twice before you speak or the secrets of stakeholder management

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.Napoleon Hill

A recent post talked about the pitfalls of office politics (King, Queen or Pawn – the Joys of Office Politics)!

This post deals with some of the same risks but not just those from within the organisation!

In management and particularly in the management of change (including projects and programmes) you will hear a lot about stakeholders.  We talk about how key they are to success and how we must ‘manage’ them!  But what exactly does that mean?

First, views on who your stakeholders actually are can vary widely.  The established wisdom is that a stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in what you are doing and can influence or have an impact on its success.  That last point is very important.  Lots of people may be interested to know more about what you are doing.  But unless they can influence the outcome, they should not be your main targets.  Sometimes telling the difference can be a challenge, particularly if you are new to the organisation!

Stakeholder management means building and maintaining active support for your initiative among those who can make a real difference to your outcome! They may be inside and outside the organisation!  For example, trade unions, pressure groups and regulatory bodies may be key players!  For private sector organisations, key stakeholder will include shareholders, main customers and, critically, main suppliers! For public sector organisations they will include the politicians!

You will need to identify and assess both the level of interest and influence!  What are people really worried about and what risk does that present to what you are trying to achieve?  How are you going to meet their needs?  This can range from from one-to-one meetings with you, or your sponsor, for the important players.  For those who have a general interest but little influence, perhaps access to your news web-pages or monthly newsletter will be sufficient!

You need both a stakeholder map (showing interest and influence) and a stakeholder plan showing targeted communications and when they will be issued. Then you need to implement your plan and monitor whether it is working.

At intervals you need to review both your map and your plan to ensure they are continuing to deliver the support you need.  As you go through your change process, the needs and interests of your stakeholders will change! New stakeholders will emerge and some will disappear – no I don’t mean you should start hiring a hit-man for the particularly irritating ones – although it can be tempting when you are under pressure!

When you analyse the people and groups around you, you will find the whole range of interests.  There will be potential advocates and you need to make sure they have the information they need to fully support you!  There will be opponents with whom, if you can, you should try to find the common ground.  Many will be indifferent and you may need to stir their interest –  but make sure you don’t create a risk by threatening their interests directly!  Key to all of this is getting to know the people around you.  Some people will just try to block what you do – usually this is through fear of a loss as a result of what you are doing.  Their fears may be realistic.  They need to understand why what you are doing is necessary and how you will limit damage, as far as you are able. There will be those who just go with the flow – if you can, energise them with good information and turn them into supporters!

There are lots of techniques you can use to complete the tasks set out above and OGC (now part of the Cabinet Office) produces a simple guide that sets some of them out.  You can find it at this link.

If your organisation has experts in communication within it, and you have access, then ask for help!

Start early and let people know where and how to access information.  But one warning, if you have promised any particular communication, for example, a monthly newsletter, then make sure it is actually produced on time and has good quality of information in it! Nothing is more frustrating than something that doesn’t arrive or looks good but doesn’t actually tell you anything about an initiative that impacts directly on you!

Communicate clearly and simply and be honest! If something is not turning out as planned don’t alienate your supporters by letting them hear about it from anyone else but you or your sponsor!

If you are just setting out on a change and have not done this before, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions or if you have experience and tips to offer, I would love to hear from you.

3 Replies to “Think twice before you speak or the secrets of stakeholder management”

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