Effective Stakeholder Management

Whether you know it or not, we are all in the business of stakeholder management. Ideally it¡¯s a conscious, planned and focused activity associated with clear actions and outcomes but more often than not it is an unconscious and unplanned aspect of managing projects day-to-day. Developing a formalised, documented, repeatable process for mapping stakeholders and embedding a clear methodology for stakeholder management can yield enormous benefit.What? When? Why? Who? How?So, what is stakeholder management? Formal stakeholder analysis is used by business leaders and project managers to identify the key influencers associated with a particular project or programme then assess their attitude, level of interest and the importance they attach to it. Such knowledge helps change programmes to interact in the most effective way with stakeholders, particularly in planning optimal pro-active communication. When is the right time for stakeholder management? It is essential to conduct the initial stakeholder analysis before the change or transformation programme begins so that the business leader or project manager can drive positive outcomes by detecting negativity, resistance or misunderstandings early on and take appropriate action. Stakeholder analysis can also be helpful when a programme changes direction.Why is it important? Stakeholder management is a key leadership tool. Done consciously and effectively it secures the ownership and accountability necessary for delivering change. It¡¯s a way of aligning multiple teams with a single goal and providing that all-important ¡®golden thread¡¯ of relevance to the strategic aims of the organisation. Who are your stakeholders? You can identify your stakeholders by following the ¡®threads¡¯ of the programme i.e. who is paying the bill, who has sign off, who is contributing resources. Distinguish between a sponsor and a stakeholder as their roles are quite different: the sponsor is the single owner of the programme, whereas the stakeholders are all those who stand to gain from it. Note that your sponsor may also have a sponsor¡¯s agent in order to expedite action.How does it work? The golden rule of stakeholder management is to clearly identify roles and responsibilities up front as well as analysing the stakeholders themselves. Set expectations for your sponsor and stakeholders with regards to performance indicators and measurement and build a tailored communications strategy around what you have learned from your analysis. Stakeholder mapping vs stakeholder managementNotwithstanding the potential benefits of effective stakeholder management, 80% of the time it is a waste of time. In fact, poor stakeholder management and ineffectual communication are two of the key reasons why change often fails.The first pitfall is the stakeholders themselves. Some are good, some are not. The issues arise when they don¡¯t understand their role; what is expected of them, what questions to ask or what information they should be receiving. The answer is to communicate responsibilities and ensure a common appreciation of the value and potential impact of the role.The second tripwire is the process. Whilst it¡¯s easy enough to create a stakeholder map, you have to remember that the map is not the end goal. We¡¯ve seen countless examples of project managers simply not knowing what to do with their analysis (inertia), not knowing what they want/need to get from it (lack of connection) or just not taking (or making) the time to act on it (roadblocks). The simple difference between the limited value of stakeholder mapping and the wide-ranging benefits of stakeholder management is action. Avoid the ¡®tick in a box¡¯ approach by visualising, targeting and time-boxing specific outcomes. Focus on benefit-driven activities that maintain that essential thread of relevance through to one unifying goal. At Afiniti we call this ¡®doing the right things right¡¯.Return on investmentStakeholder management brings classic returns in terms of time, money and motivation. The bottom line is that every minute you invest in driving effective stakeholder management will bring a significant business benefit in terms of: ? AccountabilityThe RACI model for identifying roles and responsibilities including who is ¡®responsible¡¯, ¡®accountable¡¯, ¡®consulted¡¯ and ¡®informed¡¯ will help initiate and maintain accountability.? ProgressIn practical terms stakeholder management keeps your decision-makers and influencers engaged and on track and thereby oils the wheels of progress. ? Change penetrationManaging stakeholders effectively is not just about forward momentum, it is also about scale; helping to push and promote change in every corner of the organisation. ? Overcoming barriersForewarned is forearmed: your stakeholder grid will identify where you are most likely to encounter resistance so you can ensure you are ready to counter it. ? Leveraging influenceDecision-making takes place and takes place on time when you have worked out whose opinions to weigh heaviest and who to consult first in making major decisions.? Risk managementStakeholder management is as much about managing risk as it is about managing people in the sense that it reveals potential pitfalls and provokes proactive mitigation.? Personal influence