What is Stakeholder Engagement?

When I first learned about project management formally, my colleagues impressed upon me the need to ‘manage your stakeholders’. That is, to manage their perceptions, to manage their opinions, and to manage their impact on your project. Stakeholders, I was told, are the key to project success… or failure.

If, by the way, you are not familiar with the term ‘stakeholder’, don’t worry – it just means anyone who has any interest in your project at all. I looked at the origin of this word in my previous posting.

Manage stakeholders badly and, no matter how well you manage other aspects of your project; it will fail. Because it is your stakeholders who get to judge.

Stakeholder Management

So stakeholder management has becoming a more and more important component of project management and project management training for many years. For the last fifteen years, it has been one of the parts of my project and change management training programmes and seminars that has resonated most strongly with participants and audiences.

But there is a change in the air. Increasingly, people are referring not to ‘stakeholder management’, but to ‘Stakeholder Engagement’.

Stakeholder Engagement

This is a change that I welcome and I will capitalize the term too, for reasons I will come back to in a moment. For me, engagement is simply a lot more respectful than the idea of trying to manage your stakeholders. So when I started work on my latest book, ‘The Influence Agenda’ which is about a systematic approach to engaging with stakeholders, I took the decision to use the term Stakeholder Engagement exclusively.  And from this month – in which the book is published in the UK and the US, I am changing all of my training and seminar materials accordingly.

I do, by the way, use the term ‘stakeholder engagement management’. By this, I mean management of the process of engaging with stakeholders… respectfully and positively.

So, why the capitals?

I have capitalized Stakeholder Engagement because I think it is time to recognize this as a formal discipline in its own right. Project Management (and its cousins Programme Management, Change Management, and Portfolio Management) is well established – indeed project and programme management together have their own professional bodies in many countries. Risk Management is not only a distinct area f professional skill, it is a distinct specialty of project management. Now I would like to see Stakeholder Engagement acquire the same status.


The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change is published by Palgrave Macmillan next week, on 22 April 2014. It is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

You can learn more about the book and its contents, read extracts, scan the full contents list, and download resources at: theinfluenceagenda.co.uk.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

The Origin of Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who has any interest in what you are doing, with the word ‘anyone’ inviting us to draw our net as widely as possible.  And any interest means that they can be interested in what you are doing, how you are doing it, or in its outcome.

Some of you will prefer an alternative definition, which is equally wide, and equally true, a stakeholder is:

‘anyone who can ruin your day’

This word stakeholder has, in the author’s professional life, moved from being a jargon-word that has been little understood outside narrow areas of business to becoming a commonplace. So where does it come from?

The Influence Agenda

Preparing for my new book*, I researched this extensively, resulting in a thousand word essay at the start of the book.  I summarized my research with a simple diagram. Sadly, I couldn’t put a colour version in the book, so happily, I can share it with you here.

The Evolution of Stakeholder Engagement

From Left to Right

  1. Early 18th Century
    Stakeholding exclusively part of gambling culture
  2. Late 19th  Century
    Primacy of the shareholder
  3. 1940s
    Managers as trustees, balancing multiple communities
  4. Early 1960s
    ‘Stakeholder’ identified as a concept
  5. Late 1960s
    Ansoff incorporates stakeholding into corporate strategy
  6. Early 1980s
    Freeman writes ‘Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach
  7. Mid 1990s
    Tony Blair describes a Stakeholder Economy
  8. 2010s
    Stakeholder Engagement starts to emerge as a managerial and professional discipline

Orgin of Stakeholders PosterDownload The Origin of Stakeholders poster.

 

The drawing starts with the first appearance of the word, recorded by The Oxford English Dictionary as being in 1708, and meaning the holder of a wager.  A stake is ‘that which is placed at hazard’ although OED is uncertain where that usage of stake comes from.

The OED, incorrectly, I now believe, credits the first use of stakeholder in the business sense that interests us, to Igor Ansoff in 1965.  I attribute it, two years earlier, to the Stanford Research Institute, as a play on the words shareholder and stockholder. The word gained most of its power in the mid 1990’s when British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the UK as a ‘Stakeholder Economy.’

I have written before (in The Origins of Project Management) about the wonderful tool that is the Google Ngram Viewer.  Here are some annotated print-outs that did not find a home in the book, but which make interesting references and helped to inform my essay.

For those not familiar with Ngrams, they plot the frequency of your chosen word from a vast selection of published books that Google has scanned and rendered into searchable text. You can have hours of fun choosing words, sources and time windows, to research the rise and fall in popularity of your favourite words or ideas.

Ngrams - Stkeholder Mgt & EngtNgram - Stakeholder economy Ngrams - Stakeholder* The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change is published by Palgrave Macmillan next week, on 22 April 2014. It is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

You can learn more about the book and its contents, read extracts, scan the full contents list, and download resources at: theinfluenceagenda.co.uk.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

The Virtues of Excel

Long ago, a more technically adept colleague told me that MS Project was build as sophisticated set of macros and add-ons to Excel. I don’t know for sure if it was true, but certainly the earliest versions felt that way. Now it is a far more sophisticated tool that it was then, and I don’t get to use it anymore.

But Excel remains a tool I use daily. Early in my career, I started by working on Project Finance and, coming from a mathematical science background, I was tasked with building complex financial spreadsheets. Ever since, I have been in awe of what excel can do. (In fact, in the earliest days, I use Lotus 123, of blessed memory).

Even now, I find the process of discovering a clever way to do something the tool wasn’t explicitly built for to be pleasurable – and the triumph of making it work is as good as any other professional buzz. The people who can do it well deserve a lot of credit.

For any serious player in project management, professional services or just management, numeracy to a high level is a must-have. The tool of choice for expressing that numeracy and setting it to work is the spreadsheet: Excel, Numbers, Google docs or Zoho versions. And an adeptness with spreadsheets will be a career asset throughout your life.

So, I’d like to recommend a site that taught me tips that were new and gave me a buzz f admiration for the creative problem solving the author shows in making spreadsheets do things they were not designed to do. Take a look at the resources at: http://www.exceltraining101.com/excel-project-management/  I understand the author, Doug, is planning to add more PM tools over time. But the reason to watch his videos is not for the PM tools… its for the joy of seeing ways to solve problems with Excel.

My Project Management Inspiration

Different people inspire me for different reasons.

The NASA Curiosity Rover team

For example, the NASA Curiosity Rover team demonstrated awesome levels of creative innovation in landing their rover on Mars, and equally awe inspiring technical and project management in making their system work.  It’s one thing to have crazy, off-the-wall, might-just-work ideas; it is quite another to deliver them flawlessly. It was an astonishing achievement.

Ernest Shackleton

I would also single out Ernest Shackleton for his seemingly effortless leadership and management of people under what were, by any standards, absolutes of stress and peril.  But even before then, his instinctive flair for leadership created happy, motivated crews who did not doubt his leadership for a second – many of them called him simply ‘the boss.’

MasterChef

A lot of people see teams as about competing and find that, in making people compete, they get the worst from them, rather than the best.  So I’d also like to recognise the producers and contestants of the TV programme MasterChef.  They are all commitment to developing excellence in individuals and to collaboration, while still competing ferociously.

Gerald Clayton

Finally, I must mention my father, Gerald Clayton.  Shortly after his death I wrote three blogs describing how his example inspired many of my skills and attitudes to project management – despite the fact he would probably not have been able to give a clear answer to what project management is. More than anything else, he inspired me with his common sense and his humanity.

Six Pieces fo Advice for Project Leaders

I was recently asked what advice I would offer to new (and experienced) project leaders.

1. Trust the process – things won’t always feel as though they are working out, but if the process is good – and the right one for the domain you are in – then remain open to adjustments, but fundamentally: ‘trust the process’.

2. Balance is everything, and in the context of project management, this is particularly so in the need to balance your attention to structure, systems, processes and control on the one hand, and getting the people side of projects right, focusing on motivation, inspiration and interpersonal relationships.  I refer to these sides as project management and project leadership but, in truth, it is all one discipline.

3. Everything you learn and do has value, so be an intellectual gannet and collect ideas and inspiration from everywhere.  Then integrate it all, to build creative solutions to the problems and challenges you encounter.

4. Hone you people skills and learn to focus on understanding people. To do this, the three greatest techniques to master are asking good questions, listening intently and becoming comfortable with silence.  Bringing these together with a voracious intellectual appetite – which I mentioned in my last answer, and that will give you the perception to recognise and understand things other people miss.

5. Harness your team.  The power of people is in their diversity, so create environments that allow different people to share ideas respectfully before leaping to solutions or decisions.

6. Things will sometimes get tough as a senior project management professional. So, my final tip is to build your personal resilience. Keep fit, eat well, enjoy a good social life, and make sure you get enough sleep.

More on all these topics in Brilliant Project Leader.

BrilliantProjectLeaderCover.jpg

Three Factors Common to All Projects

I’ve worked on projects for a diverse range of industries – including government, third sector, and global businesses, and in a recent interview, I was asked if there are any commonalities I came up against.

I think there are more things in common than not; after all, projects are a human enterprise and people are pretty much the same anywhere.  I would highlight three main themes.

The Need for Control

Wherever there are projects and project managers, the central concern is always to bring control to a complex and uncertain environment.  Project managers have found numerous ways but increasingly, I am seeing a strong desire for the organisation to improve its governance procedures to seize control at a strategic level.  This can only be right, ensuring precious and limited resources are properly deployed to build valuable assets for the future.

One of my signature phrases in keynotes, seminars and training is that what project managers crave, above all else, is control. I see the discipline of project management as being about imposing control on a large, unfamiliar, complex and novel environment. This is why all of my training and writing emphasises the need to create control – including my latest book: How to Manage a Great Project, in which I the eight simple steps to do just that.

Risks and Mistakes

I also see similar risks and the same mistakes being made across all sectors. The biggest difference here is the lesser ability of the statutory and regulated sectors to hide their mistakes under the carpet.   Good example is the sunk cost trap – the implicit political (with a small p) decision to keep going with projects that are no longer viable or just no longer valuable.  The fear of losing face dominates the waste of future resources.  The private sector can more effectively hide the unwanted assets in the back of a cupboard, and lose the wasted expenditure in large, amorphous budget headings.  For all the right reasons, the public sector’s mistakes are subject to greater scrutiny.

Blogger and project manager, Glen Alleman, describes risk management as the way grown-ups manage projects and I agree. Risk management needs to be far more clearly recognised in the project management community as a sophisticated and valuable discipline. This is why I wrote Risk Happens!- to provide a resource for everyday project managers (not just those managing the mega projects that can afford a risk specialist) to learn more about practical day-to-day project risk management tools and techniques.

The Importance of Stakeholders

In all sectors it is stakeholders and stakeholder engagement that need to take centre stage, along with risk management, in a mature project management culture. Too often, project managers are still over-immersed in the technical and programmatic details of their project and then wonder why users, bystanders and even customers don’t like the outcomes.

I am committed to seeing this change, which is why my next book, The Influence Agenda (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2014, will be about project stakeholder engagement. In this, I include sections on creating a stakeholder engagement culture and on ethical stakeholder engagement.   At its heart, however, just like in Risk Happens!, I have tried to create a core of practical day-to-day tools and techniques to act as a resource for project managers and project team members who do not have a communications background.

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton.Risk Happens! by Mike Clayton.The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

The Monitor and Control Cycle

A short (around two and a half minutes) video blog, introducing the monitor and control cycle, the beating heart of your project during the delivery stage. It is fully described in my new book, How to Manage a Great Project.

How to Manage a Great Project

Go to the How to Manage a Great Project website

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon.com

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton