Keys to Project Success: How to Leverage Stakeholders Pt. 2

Posted by Sean McGrath on 12/16/15 11:00 AM
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In Part One of this blog series, I put forward a bit of a different approach to the first part of stakeholder management within a project or program: gathering a team of advisors to rate/rank stakeholder attributes with the aim of identifying where your change efforts will need to focus.

The team of trusted advisors I suggested for this task are very likely not on the actual project team – those folks tend to be technical “doers” rather than the astute managers we really need in order to creatively assess and solve people-oriented problems.


Leveraging Positional Authority and Organizational Influence

We left off with the last post having gathered this team of trusted advisors, and having analyzed and ranked our stakeholders against various attributes.  The two I focused on most were Positional Authority and Organizational Influence. 

Positional Authority relates specifically to where a stakeholder sits in the organizational chart.  A VP gets a higher rank than a manager, who ranks higher than an individual contributor. Organizational Influence on the other hand is a measure of how influential a stakeholder is, regardless of their position in the org. chart.  An individual contributor with the ear of senior leadership has low Positional Authority, but high organizational authority.  A clueless and meandering Senior Manager has high Positional Authority, but likely very low Organizational Influence.

I also suggested to go ahead and rate/rank stakeholders with more standard measures, such as relative impact of the work on their job, and their current level of support for your project.

After you’ve ranked the stakeholders and heard the insights of your team of trusted advisors, it’s time to formulate an action plan.  You’ve identified both negative stakeholders and strong, influential supporters. 


There Are Two Major Concepts I Coach Here: 

  1. The first is this:
    Make no mistake, the action plan you are about to draw up is meant to manipulate people. That can either be good or bad – explaining context to people so they see a situation in a different light isn’t bad, but using power alone as a bludgeon to get your way is.  You have a responsibility to take this seriously and make sure you are being ethical and positive.
  2. To help you with that, here is the second concept I coach:  
    Every company has people who hate change or behave badly.  Work on believing that it’s not because they are bad people.  The VP doesn’t hate your project because he is a jerk.  It’s because he doesn’t understand it, or there are politics you can’t see, or because this is the fifth time your project has been tried and he doesn’t understand why this time will be different.  Together with your small team of trusted advisors, you will need to get to the actual motivations for the negative stakeholders, and then creatively see what can be done to sway them.

With your trusted advisors, construct an individual action plan for each of your most important negative or neutral stakeholders.  The actions you develop need to be creative, thoughtful and achievable.  For example, an action might be to include small areas of scope for your project which will eliminate objections from a particular stakeholder.  Another action might be to have a series of conversations with the negative stakeholders to make the case for your project.

In all likelihood you are not the right person to influence negative stakeholders – and you probably should not end up with the majority of actions meant to do so.  It doesn’t matter that you have exceptional people skills, or that you’re a genius at selling.  It’s just too easy for a nay-sayer to chalk up anything you tell them as biased in favor of your project, particularly if you are dealing with someone who isn’t just neutral, but genuinely negative.

Instead, I recommend you recruit two specific sets of people to influence stakeholders on behalf of the project.  The first are the strong supporters you identified in your stakeholder matrix – those that are positive and influential regardless of their position in the org chart.  The second set is made up of the folks on your small team of trusted advisors.  If you’ve picked them well, they are influential in the organization, and even better they have already showed great willingness to help you out (they are after all taking part in your stakeholder management mapping/action session).

Great things can happen if you are able to recruit these people to approach stakeholders for you.  The conversation will be radically re-framed away from you selling your project benefits.  Instead, it will be a discussion between two people in the business, both of whom are affected by the project success or failure. 

I have found the results from doing this are tremendous – either negative stakeholders will come around or you will find out exactly what their hang-ups are.  If there are hang-ups, you can sit down with your trusted advisors (equipped with better information) and develop different stakeholder management strategies to bring everyone on board.


Put this Key to Project Success in the Ignition

That’s the process. 

Believe you can make positive change.  Gather a team of trusted advisors and together assess your stakeholders in simple terms, honestly and compassionately.  Build an action plan for each key neutral or negative stakeholder.  Recruit positive stakeholders to engage the negative ones, outside of your presence.  Actively track actions and results.  Re-assess and re-formulate your plan regularly. 

It’s easy to say and hard to do, but it will dramatically improve the success of your projects.

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Topics: Project Management, Communication