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A Practical Guide to Stakeholder Management
It is the subtle art of achieving win-win results by negotiating through engagement.
Stakeholders are at the core of getting things done. When trying to achieve results through others, it is critical to know with whom you are talking and their positions relative to the issue at hand. The heart of effective stakeholder management is to accept that it is a negotiation process.
First of all, let me set the expectations. My perspective on the topic is based on study hours, experiments, failures, and success. I’m not arrogant enough to say: “This is your ultimate guide to stakeholder management” maybe I should, but I won’t.
Are you ready to get started? I hope so; the goal of this article is to help you learn something new.
Why treat it as a negotiation process?
Suppose you’re not the CEO, Higher priest, the Almighty in your organization. In that case, you will need to roll up your sleeves and find the “win-win” scenario for your effort to move forward.
So you don’t get lost here, two critical pieces of information on this article:
I call effort any product, feature, initiative, project, program, or contract.
This article is not for you if you don’t believe in win-win scenarios.
As effort leaders (guide or driver), we work with a cross-functional team, including users, engineering, design, sales, marketing, legal, executives, and so many others.
The first common mistake is to look to the stakeholders as “enemies” in this process. And you might be wondering why this happens? Several reasons come to mind, it could be:
Previous frustrating process.
Your own arrogance.
You want your way or the highway.
You were screwed before.
Someone broke your trust.
I can go on here for a while.
Pro tip: If you look at it as a power struggle, you will fail. Believe it, there is always a win-win situation to be achieved.
Remember that every stakeholder on the table has different KPIs, expected outcomes, motivations, pressures, triggers, and learning processes. AKA humans, just like you. Sometimes they could help speed things up; others could slow down or even halt things.
Failing to identify, manage and understand their job to be done creates toils frustrations, and it will put all your planning at risk.
Actually, a stakeholder is a risk on your risk mapping, so how to manage it? How to mitigate this risk?
To succeed in any negotiation process, you need to go throught a few steps: Identification, segmentation, communication, and engagement.
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A step by step guide
The keyword of this process is engagement. Working collaborative can be a painful experience, but it can also be gratifying. Anticipating the potential risks and blockers early and following a step-by-step guide can lead you to successfully shared value creation.
Step 01: Do you honestly know what you are trying to achieve?
I bet you that more than 50% are answering now: “No, my boss told me to do it.” I know it is frustrating to work like this. Still, the naked reality happens more frequently than anyone would appreciate.
So, find the answer to these three questions:
What is the problem/issue/pain we are trying to solve?
Why are we trying to solve it?
What is the expected outcome (result, metric)?
Pro tip: If you have difficulty answering these questions, establish your best assumptions and put them on paper to share later with your stakeholders.
Step 02: Why engage in the effort?
People need to understand why they are being invited to engage. A few good reasons to help you are:
Risk management: “if we don’t do it, we can’t operate.”
Sustainability compliance management: “If we don’t do it, we won’t be successful.”
Market development: “If we do it, we can access new markets.”
Innovation: “If we do it, we will be up to speed with our products.”
Strategy: “If we want to grow, we have to do it, and it will not only save us money but make us better.”
Can you answer this question? No? My two cents (0.02): go back to step 01.
Pro tip: If you got stuck here, focus on the expected outcome.
Step 03: Define your effort
Now that you know the what and why to engage, let’s define your effort clearly. Remember that this is the initiation definition, and it should/might change during the process.
Give it a name: Any name, don’t get attached to the name. Later, you will take this opportunity to engage with your stakeholders, and I’ll tell you when.
Effort vision: This is part of the engagement process. If you don’t have it yet, don’t worry, we recommend reading this article to help you.
Effort outcome: How will your effort help the company? Which needle will move? Do you have your “Value Tree” mapped?
Document: Put all in a record, don’t worry too much about the format. Make sure your written communication is clear and easy to understand.
Pro tip: Write to a five years old or to your grandparents.
Step 04: Identify all potential stakeholders
A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest (positive or negative) in what you are trying to achieve. Anyone who will win together or lose when you win is a stakeholder. Even if their loss is simply having to do their job differently, they could be a vital stakeholder.
I know this makes for an extensive group of people, but you need to start your map with this large group.
Pro tip: Start by asking yourself: Who will be the first one to complain about it? Who will be the last one to celebrate it? Who will be the first one to get on board?
Step 05: Find shared goals.
Focus on stakeholders who have the most power to help or hinder your goal. This narrows the field down to help you focus your engagement on the stakeholders.
Power is not only hierarchical; it’s also an influential one. In other words, map who can help you push forward and who can screw things up. Now that you know your target audience map their shared goals and risks.
Remember: the common ground could also be a risk for the business.
Look up your step 01 for the definitions, goals, and risks
Each of the stakeholders selected in this step adds their goals, motivations, aspirations.
Are they driven by their division goal?
b. Are they driven by their team goal?
Are they driven by their personal goal?
Identify the common ones.
Pro tip: It is also a good idea to check out those stakeholders who have the most significant interest in your result. Even if they don’t have the hierarchical power, they might work quite hard on your behalf to make it happen (or not, as the case may be).
Step 06: Conduct advisory session with stakeholders
Are you ready to get started? Are you sure? Let me help you to find out by answering this question:
Do you know what do you want from each stakeholder?
Not yet? So, step back and work on this first.
You may not necessarily communicate your wants directly with them. Still, you need to know what you are shooting for. How, you might ask? It’s simple, just ask the question.
To engage positive stakeholders, you need to connect their agenda with your goal and disconnect from negative ones. Those with a positive interest in your success will work harder for the effort to see how it serves their purpose and helps them achieve their goals.
Conversely, you really need to remove yourself from their radar with adverse interest. It will bite you in the ass later.
To achieve higher engagement during the sessions, you need to increase your goal’s priority in the mind of positive stakeholders and lessen it with negative stakeholders.
What? Yes, you just became a salesperson. It is time to improve your sales pitch and make it rain. Curiously, you might gain quite a bit from proactively engaging those with an adverse interest. Rather than leave them guessing, show them how it doesn’t affect them. Now that you have done your homework start by booking the sessions.
Conduct Your First meeting
Start your meeting by thanking the time and establishing the problem/pain/issue you aim to solve. We probably have a solution idea already, right? So, do us a favor and keep it to yourself for now. Let your stakeholders share first.
Establishing empathy early in the conversation; when you invite them to share first. The best part is that you will be the first to ask “Why” and get a better understanding of their motivation. By the end of the meeting, ask yourself these two questions:
What have I learned from this meeting?
Will this human being help me move forward or put blockers on the path?
Step 07: Conduct group session to drive alignment
You don’t need to get all stakeholders to agree — just enough to secure the goal. As a result, defining the plan is a nuance to consider. Suppose you want to get a long-term sustainable result. In that case, you will need to get more stakeholders to agree than if your result is a simple one-off piece of work never to be repeated.
My suggested flow for the group session:
Start by establishing the problem/issue/pain to be solved. Yes, again, and again, and again…
Invite your stakeholder to name the effort.
A product name is a label that brings the first impression to people. It will unreasonably affect how people think about it, which involves many product decisions. Naming the product in the group session is an excellent opportunity to make your stakeholders feel involved.
Restate the common goal(s) — Remind them of the outcomes that everyone raised during your individual session.
Highlight the opportunities that can help you reach the desired outcomes and share how you assess them.
Use an interview snapshot to help your stakeholder empathize with them.
Propose the potential paths that we might take to reach the desired outcome
Remember, everyone has a different learning curve, be prepared to explain several times in different ways. Written documents and flowcharts can be helpful.
Invite and push them to co-create, help them draw their own conclusion instead of telling them the ending.
This is a negotiation process, so don’t fight others. Be wise enough to ask the “right” questions. Help the group to get there. Your stakeholders might not have the same building block as you. Don’t be the know-it-all; everybody hates them.
Pro tip: Your role is to be a conductor, a mediator in those group sessions. Focus on the problem and find reasons to fall in love with it. Your idea is important too, and it will be better if you carefully listen to your stakeholders first. Your goal is to how to solve, is the result that will bring.
Step 08: Is it done? Noooooooo
No, stakeholder management is a continuous job. We laid down the ground for you to get started on it.
There is one principle to stakeholder engagement that seems a little too obvious to be mentioned but makes a fine point to end on:
Stakeholder engagement is not a spectator sport. You have to get out there and do it. Don’t overthink. Instead, take the risk of overacting.
Often, the most influential people will be inaccessible (or at least not readily available) as they stride around the corridors of power. That doesn’t mean they are not a stakeholder; it’s just that you have to be more creative in your approach. Seek out others who influence them and engage with them instead. Then, these intermediaries can impact on your behalf.
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