The Uninvited Stakeholder
With any business change initiative, it is vital to engage all relevant stakeholders in the right manner. Regardless of what their sentiments are about the initiative; whether they are allies, instructors, yes-men or women, blockers or those who quietly sit on the fence, waiting to be swayed.
We should have different objectives when we communicate with each of the above stakeholder-types but the point I want to make in this post is that we should be both thorough in our stakeholder analysis and never under-communicate with stakeholders who could, if they knew enough, help us in our quest to overcome the inevitable challenges we will face.
One of the most common criticisms of projects and programmes is that there is insufficient communication. But under-communicating with stakeholders who have influence is a major downfall that we should avoid at all costs.
Communication is not simply about making people aware. Amongst other things it's about getting buy-in and creating the reactions we need, and to help the project or programme make progress and overcome obstacles. To do that, it takes very regular, well-planned and carefully crafted communication.
It is too easy to have a “Fence Sitter” who neither causes us trouble nor asks questions, and feel that we are doing a fine job of “stakeholder management” with this person because they are sitting quietly. But that stakeholder might well have influence that none of us are aware of. Influence that could impact the behaviour or view of another stakeholder, team, or otherwise.
There are probably thousands of stakeholders all over the world that have said something along the lines of;
“If only I had known about that, I could have had a word with Jack and he would have done this and that and resolved the issue”.
“If I had known you didn't have Jack's buy-in, I would have given him a call. He and I go back 20 years and I know him better than anyone”.
In the above examples, even extremely thorough stakeholder analysis might not have uncovered the fact that our stakeholder has a close bond with Jack. But if our stakeholder had learned about the issues through our “thorough communication”, he would have been far better positioned to help us, such as …having a word with Jack.
The stakeholder influence in the examples above might secure more budget or resources, it could mitigate a serious risk or eradicate an issue. The possibilities are endless, but also impossible unless our stakeholders are sufficiently informed about the project or programme. Knowing who can help us navigate through tough times can save us a lot of unnecessary time, frustration and avoid wasting precious resources. Sometimes we won't always know who can help us; but if we communicate well and often enough, good people will often come out of the woodwork to help where they can.
That said, please don't think that a weekly report is stakeholder management. It's “reporting”, and that's it. Communication and stakeholder management are completely separate dimensions required to ensure project and programme success. These are benefits of having a creative and strong communicator involved in the initiative – whether that's in the form of a programme, change or communications manager.
So just because stakeholders are not of a disruptive disposition, and perhaps quietly sit on the fence, don't underestimate the power of inviting them to the party – because you never know what influential party tricks they might have up their sleeve.