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Stakeholder Management: Key to Success for Projects and Decision Making

Over the 15 years I’ve been doing business coaching and meeting facilitation work, stakeholder management is one of the top factors I’ve seen lead to success or failure.

One particular experience stands out in my mind. I was asked to help facilitate a final agreement-building session on changes to a process that would impact multiple departments. A cross-functional team had worked hard for months putting together a redesigned process. They were excited to share the final proposal with key stakeholders and get their commitment to dedicate staff hours to help implement the plan.

At the end of their presentation, they were shocked to discover that their most important stakeholder was not on board with the proposal and not willing to commit resources for implementation. Moreover, this senior leader disagreed with the whole premise of their proposal. Her support was so critical that the proposal had to be scrapped and the team had to go back to square one. Everyone wondered what happened. Where did they go wrong?

When we followed up with the senior leader, it turned out that the representative from her dept on the cross-functional team didn’t think it was his job to broker communication between his leader and the team. He had never spoken with the leader about the process and never gotten her input. Somehow this broken communication link never emerged in the team meetings–a sign that the whole team was not tracking well enough on the interests and concerns of their critical stakeholders.

Any leader or team who wants to accomplish something that impacts others or relies on resources outside of their control must do a good job of stakeholder management to be successful. If you don’t communicate effectively with key stakeholders or overlook some, your project or decision-making process can drag on miserably or fail completely with missed deadlines, escalating costs and resistance or outright rebellion at implementation time.

Here’s some basics I’ve found really make a difference in
creating good trust and communication with key stakeholders:

Ask your stakeholders two questions before you craft your proposal or make key decisions:

  • What would be a win for you [in how we create this/do this]?
  • What would really concern you/not work for you?

Make time on your agenda to report out stakeholder input and discuss how to take all the input into consideration.

  • The key to paving full-buy-in at the end is discovering and incorporating what works best for your key stakeholders as you develop your idea.
  • Often wins and concerns for one stakeholder are at odds with another. Find out what the underlying interest is for each. There is always a point where they have something in common; working from this point can give you a win for all parties.

Want to really build trust and relationship with your stakeholders? Loop back with them:

  • Explain how their input was taken into consideration, especially if the end result is different than they requested.
  • If you’re building an application or process, show your work in stages to make sure it’s really matching what the stakeholder expected. It’s common and entirely human
    to misunderstand each other–baking check points into the process is key to final success.

I’d like to keep exploring and expanding on the topic of stakeholder management. Do you know of a good book, article or blog on stakeholder management? What have you found is most important in successfully managing stakeholders?

About Jane: Jane Cavanaugh is an internationally acclaimed business leadership and career coach who has helped more than 6,000 professionals develop their career and leadership skills. Jane is creator of The Passionate Professional: How to Make Your Ordinary Career Extraordinary, a guided career transition program, and a co-author of Breakthrough! Inspirational Strategies for an Audaciously Authentic Life. Contact or visit Jane at www.janecavanaugh.com

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