Four Steps to Effective Stakeholder Management
In our new blog series we explore some of the key skills that will help spell success for your project. One of the most important skills that is vital to hone for success in a project environment is good stakeholder management, so in our first blog we explore what it’s all about and how to get it right.
It’s an essential element in all areas of business, but within the project management sphere, stakeholder management is a specific skill that is hugely important to develop, yet one that is commonly overlooked. When you are working to deliver on a specific project there will be numerous people involved, all of whom will be impacted to varying degrees. To ensure the success of your project, you need to garner their support and build co-operative relationships that enable its completion. That is the ultimate purpose of stakeholder management.
The term ‘stakeholder management’ is actually a bit of a misnomer though, as you can never really manage other people and if you try you’re likely to find rebellion on your hands. What you are really aiming for is building a collaborative relationship that is mutually beneficial. That is what stakeholder management is about; it’s not trying to control other people, it’s trying to work together to get the best outcomes for all. The ‘management’ part relates to the expectations and the agreed objectives of a project; while you can’t manage people, you can manage their expectations.
The most important thing to remember when working with stakeholders is that they are people; they’re not immaterial assets that you can do as you please with. As such your stakeholders will all have different ideas, perceptions and opinions about what it is you’re trying to do, and different motivations and drivers that will dictate how they respond to your request/support/question. It’s important to bear this in mind when you are trying to present your information or come to an agreement.
As highlighted by Chloe Healey, Project Controls Manager for BAE Systems; “Stakeholder management is one of the most important aspects of being a good project controller. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at manipulating and interpreting data, if they can’t present it clearly and use that data to influence the project team and support them in its completion, then the data will be virtually useless.”
Within the Project Management context it’s widely accepted that there are four main elements of stakeholder management:
Know who they are
You can’t appropriately manage your stakeholder’s expectations and build strong partnerships unless you know who they are. Depending on the size of the project or programme the number of stakeholders you need to work with may vary, it could be customers, employees, senior managers, government bodies or the local community. Anyone who has involvement or that will be impacted by the project should be considered a stakeholder, so the first thing to do is identify who they are and then you can establish a plan for communications and engagement.
Understand who has priority
Once you know who your stakeholders are, the nest step is to understand the levels of influence they hold. The truth of business is that some people’s input will have to be adhered to more strictly than others. In most cases the customer you are working for will be the most influential stakeholder, but if it’s an internal project, then a senior director, for example, will likely have more influence than a junior colleague. It’s therefore important to consider who out of your stakeholders will have the most impact on your project, and ensure you are able to manage the expectations of others in relation to this. This can be understood by utilising a traditional influence/interest matrix such as the one below, allowing you to clearly define the levels of power and interest different individuals may have. However, that being said, the ability to manage all of your stakeholders effectively can mean that you are able to consider the input of everyone related to the project, and assemble all of the relevant information, to be presented in a way that will offer the best possible outcomes for all. If this can be achieved, then the consideration of who has greatest influence will be less paramount.
Be open and deliver on expectations
If you have information to share, where possible share it with all of your stakeholders; people like to feel informed and it’s important to be transparent when trying to build trust and co-operation with others. If there are instances where you can’t share information due to security or confidentiality reasons, for example, at the very least be transparent about why you can’t offer the information. People will respect you for your honesty much more than if you lie to please them. Related to this is being clear about expectations from the start and only agreeing to what is actually feasible. Making sure you deliver on what was agreed, or explaining why this isn’t going to be achievable as soon as possible will help reduce anxiety, frustration and conflict as much as possible.
“Teamwork and collaboration are always important, as is stakeholder management and the ability to negotiate and explain your point, but also listen to feedback and use it to improve what you do.” – Brendon Johnston, Planning Director for McLaren Construction UK.
Show you understand their concerns
Due to the divergence in motivations, viewpoints and opinions of stakeholders within a business it’s important to show empathy and commercial awareness when interacting with them. This allows you to consider the situation from their perspective. Once you are able to do that you can present your issue in a way that most interests or benefits them. Individuals will be more receptive to interventions and suggestions if they are able to recognise the potential benefit it has for them, and you can only present information in this way if you yourself understand it. You may be able to grasp this based on existing knowledge, but in most cases it will require in-depth discussions with different stakeholders to explore their areas of concern, and hopefully create a solution that suits their needs.
The ability to manage the expectations of others is an essential element in project management and wider business success. People are highly complex beings, but on the whole have relatively simply needs which include feeling included, understood and respected, and these are the fundamental aspects of successful stakeholder management. While projects may be about delivering products or services, success comes down to the way people work together, and effective stakeholder management is the way to make that happen.
In the next blog we’ll explore the U in success – Understanding Relationships