We’ve all been there; a project that does not go anywhere post-launch. Not because of bad design or outputs but simply because people just aren’t interested or have switched off due to bad stakeholder management.
Too many marketers/entrepreneurs/communications teams hare off with their plans, ignoring the “naysayers" and the “whingers" to create their next masterpiece, only to find that the project is bigger than they ever imagined and that, without help, they are doomed to project tumbleweed.
1. Communicate with people
That doesn’t mean “tell them what you’re doing" by the way. It means listening as well! There is no point hiding away creating your next masterpiece and then “telling" people about it. Be open about what you are doing from the very start, and honest about where the potential pitfalls and gaps are. This will make them more inclined to help too.
2. Get them involved early on
Depending on the stakeholder, their nature and their importance to the project, you should pick the format of your initial meeting carefully. Sometimes a quiet 1-2-1 is most appropriate, especially if that person is a vocal and confident influencer. At other times, you might need to create a group ethos – in this instance, then a workshop may be more suitable.
3. Give them a sense of ownership
Instilling a sense of ownership in your stakeholders is the single most important thing you can do. You have a choice; either build their self-esteem or damage it. Think about the last project that someone didn’t think you were important enough to be involved in, how did it make you feel? What were the repercussions for the project? Giving ownership could be as simple as informing someone what you are doing, asking for their approval on something or giving them an actual role in the project. Everyone likes to feel important.
4. Form a stakeholder power/interest matrix
A stakeholder power interest matrix is a really useful tool to identify how different stakeholders should be treated and ensure good stakeholder management. Depending on where someone sits in the category dictates how you should manage them:
- High power, interested stakeholders must be fully engaged and make sure you keep them happy!
- High power, less interested stakeholders, they might not want to know everything, but they will want to know enough to be confident in what you are doing.
- Low power, interested stakeholders can often be very helpful with the detail of your project, so make sure you keep them up-to-date so that you can call on them if needs be.
- Low power, less interested stakeholders. These stakeholders should be monitored to assess their information needs, which shouldn’t be overloading.
A power interest grid is not the type of thing to share among the project though – you can keep this bit to yourself!
5. Say yes to help and feedback!
It’s all too easy to want to keep control of your project. And, of course, you should be in charge of making sure it’s a success, but don’t let this get in the way of you accepting offers of help or constructive criticism, even if they mean you have to change something. Ultimately your project will get a better end result.
6. Tackle project dissonance directly and quickly
Despite your best intentions, there may be internal politics that are just operating in bigger spheres than your project. If this is the case and your project is being impacted, try to cut through all the noise and go straight to the heart of the problem. Speaking to the person directly will build your relationship with them and will help you identify the real reasons behind the issue.
7. Pay attention to the more difficult stakeholders
It’s all too easy to pick the same people for your workshops because you know you’ll get a good result and a nice working atmosphere. But, ignoring the more difficult stakeholders will only lead to bigger gaps in their acceptance and doesn’t make for great stakeholder management. Make sure you include them in relevant communications and sessions that will allow them to become part of the project.
8. Customer empathy map your stakeholders
If you haven’t used customer empathy mapping before, now is the time to start. It will give you a really good insight into your stakeholders. Read our guide to customer empathy mapping if you haven’t done it before.
9. Be careful of email
This should be a given but we see it misused time after time. Written communication can be misinterpreted so easily. If you think there is any chance that yours could be, then write your mail, leave it a day and come back to it. What you read the second time may come as a shock! Or, get someone objective to read it for you. Avoid “reply to all" at all costs, especially in an email spat. None of these techniques help in the end, they just create stakeholder cognitive bias that you could do without.
10. Be prepared to change
The most successful projects never ended up as they were first imagined. Go into this project with an open mindset, not a fixed idea of what you think will work. If you haven’t read “who moved my cheese" then you should do before your next project. It will show you that being open to new ideas and change are the key drivers to success.