What is your Influence Agenda?

Some things are cliches for a very good reason: they are true, and there is no other way to say them. So, when I say that change is a constant feature of organisational life, I am not trying to be clever, just to make a commonplace observation.

Another commonplace of organisational life is that unless you can engage your stakeholders and win their support, your change is doomed to fail. So what are you doing to build and manage a credible campaign of engaging and influencing your stakeholders?

Mission and Vision

Your organisation has a purpose, or mission, and also, I expect, a vision for its future. We translate this into a strategy for change, and from that, we develop a programme of changes that are fully aligned to these.

Stakeholder Engagement Goals

From this, you also need to derive a stakeholder engagement goals that state what you need to achieve, to maximise your chances of project or programme success, in terms of your change goals. Your influence agenda is a systematic campaign for achieving your stakeholder engagement goals.

A Systematic Campaign

Your campaign must have a number of essential elements:

  1. Identify who your stakeholders (literally, anyone who has any interest in what you are doing) are
  2. Analyse them to understand, characterise, and prioritise your stakeholders
  3. Plan your campaign and the messages you need to deliver
  4. Act on your plan and engage your stakeholders to influence their attitudes and actions
  5. Maintain your campaign under constant review

How to Influence

At the core of your Influence Agenda is the process of influencing. There are four forms of influence you can adopt:

  1. Hard power
    – the influence of status – rarely effective in a sustainable way
  2. Economic power
    – the influence of exchange – most effective for short-term persuasion
  3. Soft power
    – the influence of attraction – the way to build long-term influence
  4. Hidden power
    – the influence of the unconscious – how to influence choices in the moment

Of these, soft power will be by far the most important, and I will look more at this in a later LinkedIn post.

Learn from Geopolitics

Nations use all of these forms of power. Hard power is military and diplomatic coercion; economic power is trading and sanctions; soft power is aid and cultural exchange; and hidden power is the way policy makes certain choices more desirable.

As with politics, so with organisations. You will be most successful when you get the balance right. But one thing is absolutely for sure: if you believe in the change you are seeking to implement, then deploying a structured influence agenda is not an option. All that remains then, is how you plan and manage your campaign.


The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThe Influence Agenda
is the new book by Mike Clayton

Learn more about the book, watch some videos, and download templates and other resources, at www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

Earlier posts that you might also like:

– What is Stakeholder Engagement? 
– Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

An important feature of power in organisations is its fragmentation across many dimensions.

In a typical large corporation, Government department, public authority, or charity, power divides among many departments, and often across different geographical elements. Indeed, many corporations are now made up of individual trading businesses, each vying with one another for power: in some the competition between them is an unfortunate consequence of human nature; in others it is engineered into the situation by senior executives.

Tactical Response

This fragmentation results in a highly tactical approach to influencing stakeholders. Different parts of the organisation prioritise different stakeholders, and even send conflicting messages. Take, for example: the customers whom the sales team might prioritise, the staff, whom the personnel function will favour, the media, whom the public affairs team focus on, and the suppliers that the purchasing team work with. Whilst there is a genuine community of interest among them, tactical communications often create mixed messages. An organisation must take a strategic view to ensure that it emphasises common themes.

Unscrambling Complex Systems

Increasingly, we hear of organisations described as complex systems of interacting and interdependent agents. The role of the organisation is to find and exploit opportunities for the whole system to benefit. The system metaphor is seductive and doubtless highly valuable, but its very complexity makes it somewhat intractable to the average manager or change leader.

A profitable starting place for simplifying this complexity is to borrow from Six Sigma, a structured methodology to drive process improvement, developed in the 1980s by Motorola. An important concept in Six Sigma is that of Xs and Ys.

A Y is a measure of output performance.
It is an effect of the process. Motorola talked of Big Ys as the things that matter most to the business’s most critical customers.

An X is a cause – a factor, variable or process element which can affect the outcome.
The Big Xs are the factors that have the greatest impact on Big Ys.

The way we simplify the complexity of a highly inter-connected system of stakeholders is to look for the Big Ys and then for the Big Xs.

Applying Big Xs and Big Ys to a campaign of Influence

In our case, the Big Ys represent the important changes you want to create by exerting your influence: your outcomes.

The Big Xs are the stakeholders who can have maximum impact upon those outcomes.

Your first step in creating a successful campaign of influence is to prioritise your stakeholders. But do not be seduced into a simplistic analysis that equates position or power with impact on outcomes. The process of analysing stakeholders needs to be a lot more sophisticated, reviewing webs of influence, needs, interests and attitudes too.

Do yo know who the Big Xs are for your organisation, your project, or your change initiative? If you don’t: you should.


The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThis is the approach I take in The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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.’


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.