Category Archives: Stakeholder Management

Influence and Persuasion for Project Managers

Influence Without Authority

Unlike day-to-day managers, most project managers have little or no formal authority over our team-members. This means that anything you want me to do, you have to persuade me. For project managers, the arts of influence and persuasion are a core skill set.

Most of us have developed a facility with structured, logical thinking that allows us to easily create a credible and coherent argument for what we plan to do. But have you noticed that being right is rarely enough to persuade someone? Analytical reasoning is merely a starting point for influencing team-members, stakeholders and project sponsors.

How to be influential

A large part of influence lies in your day-to-day actions, your attitudes, and your approach. If people are to follow your lead, they will need to like and respect you, which means you actions must carry your convictions and integrity with them all of the time.

Influential Actions

Start with the absolute basics: courtesy and respectfulness. It costs nothing to be polite, but you will be surprised how much difference it makes in a world where many stressed out PMs have short tempers and feign entitlement to the loyalty of their teams and support of their stakeholders. A generous attitude is also a valuable asset. People remember favours and simple concessions and you may be surprised how powerful the “I’ve scratched your back…” principle can be in building loyalty. But above all, our sense of fairness means that you absolutely must ensure that you follow through on any promises or commitments you make. To not do so would invite a reciprocal approach from others and your influence will drop to zero as people will no longer trust you to keep your word.

Influential Attitudes

Your attitude to your project and your people will be under test throughout. Primarily you should be cultivating the kind of attitudes that people find attractive and lead them to want to follow you. Whilst people respect calm detachment and a realistic assessment of the situation, they are drawn to optimism. So if you can find your own way to balance these two attitudes, you can win both respect and liking. Tenacity is another character trait that we both like and respect, but again, a dogmatic attitude to constant repetition will undermine your reputation, but a robust adaptability will leave stakeholders and team members willing to follow your lead.

A Choice of Approaches

Ultimately the question of what sort of Project Manager you are will come down to the approach you take to influencing people. The three approaches we commonly see can be characterized as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, and I am sure you have met them all in the course of your career.

“The Bad” is that style of influence that depends solely of assertion. Some projects managers seem as though they cannot help themselves but coerce and compel actions with either the promise of great rewards or the threat of some kind of sanctions. Clearly celebrating success and small appropriate team incentives are a vital part of good project management. But when the promises are hollow and the threats get personal, there is only one name for this behavior: bullying.

Some PMs are far more subtle. They make you feel as though you want to do something for them but, at the same time, you don’t feel good about it. Often, you cannot put your finger on what feels wrong and this is a sure sign that you have been the victim of manipulation. This is “The Ugly”.

“The Good” influence has total integrity. You offer genuine choice, and people accept your ideas and act as you ask, because they want to. You have made your case and they feel good about supporting you. Often, when people feel tis kind of loyalty to a positively influential colleague, they will more for you than you ask. Investing over the long-term in your reputation as a generous, respectful, and optimistic leader, who perseveres sensibly and addresses their own commitments consistently is perhaps the best professional investment you can make.

Ten Persuasion Tactics

No matter how positively influential you are, it always helps to have a few handy persuasion tips up your sleeve, so here are ten of my personal favourites, from my book, ‘How to Influence in Any Situation (Brilliant Influence)’.

The “Your Doctor would Tell you to…” Principle

Why do we trust doctors and follow their advice? We trust them because we know that they have had years’ of relevant training and experience. Well so have you. As a project manager you have gained the scars and war stories, and will also have access to the experience and knowledge of your senior team members and experts. When you deploy these together, you have a massive level of credibility. Wear it lightly, but do ensure the people you need to persuade are aware of it.

The “Jiminy Cricket” Effect

Do you recall that, in the movie, Jiminy Cricket was appointed to be Pinocchio’s conscience? You, me, and everyone* has a Jiminy Cricket organ – a part of our brains that makes us feel bad if we are about to break or promise or renege on a commitment. The most important part of triggering the Jiminy Cricket effect is to secure a clear commitment, and the more prominent it is, then the stronger the effect will be. Look them in the eye and ask for their commitment. Step up the effect by doing it in a formal setting and, better still, in front of other colleagues. Amplify it to the max by ding it in writing. Then, courteously remind them of their commitment two or three times in the run-up to your deadline.


 

* Actually, not quite everyone. Some personalities lack the feelings of guilt that most of us have, when we let other people down. Sadly, these people are not susceptible to most forms of influence and subtle persuasion and are most easily influenced by compulsion or self-interest.


The “Eight out of Ten Cat Owners” Principle

In my childhood, a UK TV advert asserted that “eight out of ten cat owners, who expressed a preference, said their cat prefers…” Why did this advert work? Well, because despite loving their pets, few cat or dog owners taste their pet’s food. So how do they know what to buy? But, if other loving pet owners have made their choice, then perhaps the safest option is to go with their judgement. This is known as ‘social proof’ and, where the stakes are low and we think we are like the crowd, then we feel good doing what they do. It saves making a decision for ourselves.

The “Follow Me” Effect

People like to follow crowds, and leaders too. So, if you show enough confidence in yourself, and confidently expect people to follow, they often will. Leading from the front or “role model leadership” is a powerful persuader. Often, the most powerful way to deploy this is to not even ask: just do.

The “WAM” Principle

WAM stands for “what about me?” This is the most basic persuader of all: self-interest. Where you can properly align your request with my self-interest, I will comply readily. So put yourself in other people’s shoes and ask “what’s in it for you?” When you understand the answer, you will have the basis for easy motivation and persuasion. This is the fundamental approach to the influence aspect of stakeholder engagement [link back to my previous blog].

The “Who are You to Tell Me?” Principle

Without the WAM factor, there is almost always one thing you need to establish before you try to persuade anyone of anything: “who are you to tell me?” We want to know the credentials of anyone who is trying to persuade us. Can we trust them? Do they understand our position? Do they know what they are talking about? Are they one of us? Watch any half-way competent professional politician and you will see that they spend more of their time on these aspects of persuasion than they do on mounting their argument for any particular policy or position. And the reason is simple: if they fail to establish their character and credibility, we won’t listen to anything else.

The “Structured Response” Effect

When you make your argument, you must make it in as clear and concise a way as possible. The more confusing you are, the less I’ll be persuaded. The more you repeat yourself, the lower your influence will be. So take care to structure your advocacy or responses with a clear context, point of view, and reason.

The “Why Should I Care?” Principle

People rarely make their choices based on the facts and the logic. What we do is decide based on our emotional response to the situation, and then use the analysis and evidence that you give us, to justify our choice – both to others and to ourselves. As an influencer and persuader, you neglect the emotional dimension at your peril. It is simply not true that emotions have no place in project management.

The “Welcome the Ah but…” Principle

Project managers fear resistance from the team members and our stakeholders. But in truth, it’s a good thing. It means you are getting genuine engagement with your ideas. Listen to it, because you may just learn something. But if you believe you are right, the simple strategy is always to keep inviting every last objection. When you’ve dealt with them all; when you’ve ‘emptied the hopper’, then there will be no resistance left.

The “Make ‘em Feel Smart” Principle

Most project managers and all of the experts and specialists on your projects are smart, very smart. And you all have a tendency to show this off and use long words, jargon and even formulae to prove it. Wrong! People won’t trust you if they don’t fully understand you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t do or think as you ask. You will fail to persuade them. On the other hand, if the think they understand deeply, because you have explained clearly, in simple terms, with analogies, pictures and simple lists, then they will feel smart, they will trust you, and they will say to themselves “yes, that’s right; I get it.”


This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 26 August, 2015, as 10 Ways to Influence Without Authority.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’, and ‘How to Influence in Any Situation’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Plan your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign

You are a project manager. You care about getting things right. So you plan meticulously, identify threats and take steps to mitigate them. The only thing that can get in your way now is one thing: people.

What all experienced project managers know is that it is your stakeholders who will ultimately determine whether your project is deemed a success… or not. So you need to be equally rigorous in planning your campaign for engaging with your stakeholders, to learn from them, build their trust, and ultimately influence their attitudes.

So what are the components of a stakeholder engagement plan, and how can you determine the best strategy for each?

Identify the and Understand the stakeholders with whom you need to engage

In my previous blog, I discussed techniques that will help you to identify and analyse your stakeholders. For major stakeholders whom you choose to prioritise, you will probably want to create a detailed engagement plan for each of them. For others, you will want a plan that has several strands, clustering approaches and messages around groups of stakeholders with similar needs, perspectives or other characteristics.

Determine the message you need to communicate, and the right tone to adopt

For each stakeholder, the next step is to consider the message or messages that you need to convey. Over the course of a long project, you may need to build up a narrative that evolves as more information becomes available, or as the stakeholder’s attitudes shift. One tip project managers can usefully take from the political campaigning process is to devise a ‘message calendar’ – a week-by-week (possibly even day-by-day) schedule of the messages that you want to put out or the engagement process you want to pursue.

As important as the message itself is the tone of voice you adopt. Do you wish to be consulting or commanding, informing or instructing, requesting or requiring? With each stakeholder and at each stage in your engagement plan, the tone may be different. But it is vital that you determine the right tone before creating your message. This way, you can test out how it comes across before publishing. Let’s face it: how many of us have sent an email and not thought about tone, and then discovered the receiver reacted in a way we had not expected nor wanted?

Decide what medium will get your message across most effectively

One of the joys of project work is the vast array of options you have for how to communicate a message. Aside from the world’s best medium (face-to-face, communicating in a shared first language) and its worst (email) media, there are many to choose from. And your job is to select those that best meet the needs of your audience; your stakeholders. Don’t simply pick the most convenient to your team.

An early consideration in choosing media is the extent to which you want many stakeholders to get the same message at the same time (broadcast media) or for each stakeholder to get a highly differentiated message (narrowcast media). Some media, of course, can offer both options (for example, many web technologies).

You will also want to note that some media are better at informing and explaining, while others lend themselves better to consultation and involvement. Still others are well-suited to genuine collaboration and partnering.

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

Selecting a Communication Medium according to your Strategic Posture

A final consideration will be the nature of the message itself: what is the degree of emotional content (which suggests a personal versus impersonal medium) and what is the level of complexity and sophistication of your message, which will determine whether long-form or short-form approaches will work better.

Find an approach that will motivate the change you want to encourage

A lot of your stakeholder communication will be targeted towards encouraging a change. We shan’t consider the skills of influence and persuasion in this blog. But what I do want to suggest is that, in motivating a change, you do need, as a project manager, to properly understand the range of different motivators that you can deploy.

The range starts at the bottom, with the most fundamental motivators, the needs for safety and security. However, these motivators have something of the ‘if you don’t do this, something bad will happen’ flavor. Whilst aversive motivation is powerful, it is largely a bullying tactic and therefore one to avoid if you possibly can. I would say that this is even the case where something bad really can happen, as in the case of health and safety, or compliance, projects.

Of course, people like rewards and motivating with the promise of a personal gain or benefit of some sort will appeal to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor. However, a lot of recent research shows that this is a poor motivator and fairly ineffectual, unless the person you seek to motivate is either craving the reward on offer in advance, or they feel no other reward is on offer.

Social motivation factors, like enhanced status, strengthened relationships, recognition by peers, and respect, are powerful and have integrity. And feeling of being part of a social group also creates other powerful motivators like preservation of reputation, loyalty, and duty. These motivators are powerful assets in a project manager’s toolkit – not just for stakeholder engagement, but team leadership as well.

Finally, intrinsic motivators are the most profound of all. This is where you lead others to doing something for their own reasons, pride, achievement, or a sense of contribution, maybe. The three most widely used in project environments are giving stakeholders a sense of control, making clear the underlying purpose and value of the project, and creating opportunities for stakeholders to learn, develop and become more capable. Once again, these motivators are also valuable to project managers in the team leadership role.

Set up your engagement schedule

What would a plan be without timescales? Schedule your engagement activities into your wider project plan. It is best if you treat this as a work-stream within a master plan, rather than a wholly separate activity. It is also wise to avoid integrating engagement activities with other activity works-streams, because in that way you risk mixed messages and mis-timings occurring between communications with different stakeholder groups who may, nonetheless, be in contact with one-another.

Allocate responsibilities for components of your plan

A dedicated work-stream needs a work-stream leader. If you are to take stakeholder engagement management seriously on your larger projects, then you will need a Stakeholder Engagement Manager. Whether you have one or not, like any other project activities, each engagement activity needs to be clearly allocated to a named individual. As project manager, you will inevitably be drawn into a lot of stakeholder engagement activities (this is not strictly true – see the box) so take care to ensure that you only allocate to yourself those stakeholder activities that only you can really add value to. In addition, stakeholder engagement is a great opportunity to fully engage your project sponsor in contributing to your project in high-value ways that less senior and well-connected people cannot.


Front-of-house and Back-of-house Project Managers

One nice model of project management job-sharing is not used as much as it could be. It clearly requires a great relationship, high levels of trust and immaculate co-ordination between the role-holders, but it can work magnificently.

 

This is the idea of two project managers who face in two different directions: one inward, to the team, and one outward, to the client and external stakeholders. The former, back-of-house PM may be a logical, detail focused, task-oriented and technical expert with a bent for administration. As long as their team respects them, they do not need to be a gregarious, confident communicator, if that role is filled by the front-of-house PM.

 

‘Who is the project manager?’ you ask. If you ask the team members, you will get a different answer to that you will get from the stakeholders. But working together can free each up to excel in one arena.


 

Create a mechanism to receive, evaluate, and act on feedback from your stakeholders

Have you ever sent a message and wondered if it had arrived? Or, if you know that it did, did it get opened? Or read? Or understood? Or acted upon? There are so many ways for our communication to go wrong that it is vital that you set up a way of gauging the results of your engagement process continually. You need to find ways to listen to your stakeholders, and hear their feedback. You will want to take that and consider carefully what it is telling you and, crucially, if you do this, you need a way to channel what you are learning from your stakeholders into your wider project decision process.

This is why we engage with stakeholders, rather than simply trying to ‘manage’ them. These are the people who will determine the success, or not, of your project. Their perceptions, insights, and ideas are the raw material from which you can turn a good idea into a successful outcome.


This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 24 June, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Don’t try to Manage your Stakeholders when you can Engage them instead

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way right up-front: the idea that you can ‘manage’ your stakeholders is just plain rude.

It is disrespectful to think you can manage people who, at the outset, owe you no loyalty, no duty, no respect, and certainly no obedience. You need to earn all of these. The term ‘Stakeholder Management’ seems to me to be outdated; an artifact of a time when project managers were optimistically naïve enough to believe that every aspect of a project could be wholly within their control.

Yet, we know we were wrong. I remember learning – and then subsequently repeating – that managing projects would be easy, if it weren’t for the people. So, shall we agree to put a stop to stakeholder management, then? Instead, let’s aim to engage our stakeholders with our project: to start a conversation that can benefit both them and us.

At a high level, the process of engagement is straightforward:

  1. Identify who your stakeholders are
  2. Analyze them
  3. Plan how you will engage them
  4. Put your plan into action and manage your engagement campaign
  5. Constantly review the outcomes of your engagement

Identifying your Stakeholders

Two tools represent opposite ends of a spectrum of approaches to identifying your stakeholders. At the simplest, a proximity map charts concentric circles with immediate, core stakeholders in the center, working outwards to the peripherally interest stakeholders beyond the widest circle. You could split your circle into two, to separate supporters and skeptics, or add a third sector for neutrals, for example.

For the most thorough approach, start with the project manager’s Swiss Army tool, the Work Breakdown Structure and, for each task, ask who is, or may be, involved in any way? This creates a Stakeholder Breakdown Structure, giving you an orderly way to create an initial register of stakeholders.


Ten questions to ask for each Task

  1. Who is involved in making this task happen?
  2. Who will observe the task in progress?
  3. Who will have an opinion about this task? … and whose opinions matter?
  4. Who has access to the resources needed for this task?
  5. Who needs to know about this task?
  6. Who can support or frustrate progress of this task?
  7. Who is affected when the task is being carried out?
  8. Who will evaluate this task?
  9. Who will complain if it goes wrong
  10. Who will be impacted by the outcome of this task?

Analyzing your Stakeholders

The next step is to understand whatever you can about each of your stakeholders. You need to know what their interests are, what position they might take, the level of impact they could have on your project, and something about the way they tick. Ultimately you need to figure out how you can maximize the value of engaging with each of your stakeholders.


Ten Questions to Ask about each Stakeholder

What…

  • … resources do they command?
  • … do we want from them?
  • … information will they want from us?
  • … do they want?

Who…

  • … are they? Where do they fit in their organisation?
  • … are they connected with?

How…

  • … do they like to receive information?
  • … do they like to communicate?

What if…

  • What risks do they pose to us?
  • What opportunities do they offer us?

 

Your job in engaging with a stakeholder is to understand and appeal to their concerns first and address their objections and resistance second. If you start by trying to ‘sell’ your project to them, then you do two things:

  1. First, you lose the opportunity to learn from them, to hear their ideas, and benefit from their insights. Often, your stakeholders know a lot that you don’t, and they can contribute new thinking to your plans or genuine concerns about risks. When they feel listened to, they are more likely to become supporters and advocates too.
  2. Second, you risk triggering a reaction to what you propose. And as soon as you get any form of objection, the stakeholder will establish a position. Psychologically, we feel obliged to defend our position or risk losing face. So the more you can build rapport before giving stakeholders something to push against, the more chance you will have of persuading them effectively.

You must be prepared to answer the difficult questions that arise, and to show integrity in the way you do it. Admit to the weaknesses in your position, rather than looking foolish in defending a weak case, and be prepared to change your mind – and your plans – if stakeholders mount a convincing case. Nothing is more likely to trigger disengagement or outright hostility than blind advocacy of a flawed proposition.

Use Established Networks of Relationships

When you start a new project with lots of new people and groupings to get to know, one of the most helpful things you can do is to start developing a sociogram. This is a chart of how each person is connected to others. Draw each person as a circle or ‘node’ and show links between people as lines. You can represent the strength of a relationship as the thickness of the line – thin medium or thick, with a dotted line indicating a tenuous relationship. Use arrows to indicate the main direction of influence.

Very quickly, you will start to see clusters of people that form groups; you’ll find the hubs – people central to a group – the connectors, people with a foot in two or more groups, and the outliers – people who are barely connected and therefore independent thinkers. This can be a powerful way to start to build your understanding of your stakeholders and plan how to engage effectively with them. It makes it easy to spot the hard to get to outliers and who the influential hubs and connectors are.

Another way to harness existing relationships is to inventory any existing connections between project team members and your stakeholders. Doing this allows you to make smart assignments of colleagues to develop relationships and engage with particular stakeholders. Also look for overlapping interests or backgrounds that will allow your team members to rapidly gain the confidence of stakeholders. This will help stakeholders to express their views more freely and, when it comes to time for influencing them, you will be better able to do so.

Plan how to Engage with your Stakeholders

There is a wide range of engagement strategies you can apply to each stakeholder. Each strategy balances your time investment against the value of that stakeholder’s engagement, and the level of collaboration against the degree of competing with them if they resist.

The chart below shows you over forty generic strategies to choose from. It is neither a prescription nor model. It is more of an indication of the flexibility available to you and a tool to help you in assessing your situation and considering which of your alternative approaches can yield the best results. Further to the right, you will need to invest more effort, whilst higher up the chart, your attitude to the stakeholders will be more positive.

Stakeholder Strategies

Stakeholder Strategies

It is tempting to take a purist approach and advocate that you keep your engagement towards the top right of the chart, but the reality of your situation may demand an alternative approach. The one thing that must not be negotiable is that, whatever you do, you must do it with the highest levels of integrity.

Ultimately, you need to develop a campaign plan: a plan that does two things:

  • It sets out the range of engagement activities you will carry out, when you will undertake them, who they will be addressed to, and the details of how you plan to execute and monitor them.
  • A campaign plan also needs to consider, stakeholder by stakeholder, what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. Clearly with a large stakeholder group, some will be of lower priority to you and several low priority stakeholders can be aggregated to reduce the pressure on resources.

In a world of finite time and resources, you will always need to make judgments and compromises. But what is evident is that many project managers under-resource stakeholder engagement – particularly in the early stages of a project – and end up paying the price for this later on. They then see errors that could have been predicted, high levels of disengagement, active resistance, and even acts of sabotage.

When it comes to persuasion, there is much to be said [trail a future blog here?], so I will confine myself to four tips, based on the four types of motivation we each have for anything.

  1. The most powerful lever in you campaign plan is self interest – appealing to what each stakeholder wants most. Major intrinsic motivators include appeals to purpose and meaning, the need to be in control, and a desire for achievement.
  2. Almost as powerful is our need for social success, in the form of memberships of a group, relationships, and status. In this cluster is also the need to fulfill a sense of obligation to others.
  3. Less powerful, and usually less accessible to a project manager are the extrinsic motivational levers that many think of first, like rewards, pleasures and material gains.
  4. Finally, if they feel threatened in any way, stakeholders will be motivated by such fundamental factors as safety and security. Compliance requirements sit here for some, and as a sense of obligation and duty to others.

One thing to Remember

If I could persuade you to remember just one thing from this article, it would not be any of the techniques, tips or tools. It would not even be the subtle, but important, distinction between stakeholder management and stakeholder engagement. It would be simply one rule. When you remember and respect this rule, everything else that matters will follow.

Stakeholder Rule Number 1

Your stakeholders will determine the success, or not, of your project.

 


This article was first published on the ProjectManager.com website on 24 June, 2015.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk – on which this article is based.

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton
His other books include ‘How to Manage and Great Project’.

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Why do Stakeholders Resist Change?

I guess some of my readers are thinking that this is like asking why day follow night, but recent research is digging deeper into the underlying causes.

For many years, I have used my Onion Model of Resistance to help me and my clients understand the different ways people resist change, and how project and change managers can deal with it. The six levels of resistance are like the layers of an onion: each one closer to the psychological heart of the problem, and each one being a little hotter and harder to handle.

But in research The Influence Agenda, I discovered some fascinating research that led me to a deeper understanding of one of those six layers of resistance, when people are saying, effectively: ‘I don’t like change’.

The work of Shaul Oreg at Cornell University found, unsurprisingly, that some people are more resistant to change than others. But he also found four factors that reliably predict how much resistance a person will show towards a change.

Stakeholders are likely to be more resistant when they have:

  1. A preference for routine and familiar things
  2. A preference for sticking to a plan, once it is made
  3. A tendency to get stressed by changes in plan
  4. A discomfort with changing their mind

This leads me to identify four separate versions of the ‘I don’t like change response, each of which you can, as a change agent engaging with your stakeholders, respond to in a different way.

  1. ‘I don’t like a break in routine’

Focus not on the old routine ending, but on the emergence of new routines as a transition towards a new form of stability.

  1. ‘I feel uncomfortable with sudden changes’

Long lead times and careful planning will make even a sudden change feel familiar by the time it happens.

  1. ‘I get stressed at the thought of change’

The stress response arises from feelings of not being in control. Find ways to involve the resistant stakeholder in the change process, to give them a real and meaningful sense of control.

  1. ‘Once I have made up my mind, I like to stick to it’

This ‘cognitive rigidity’ means that you should present change as being, as far as possible, consistent or a minor deviation from a pre-existing choice. The less you present it needing a discontinuous change of opinion, the better.

Of all of the disciplines a project manager needs to master, handling resistance in a positive manner is, perhaps, the hardest. It is certainly the one that the people I speak to and train fear the most. Yet, like all things, with study comes understanding and, from understanding, flow concrete techniques.


This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 25 November, 2014.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Are you feeling mature?

Software development, project management, and risk management all have maturity models that set criteria to allow organisations to measure the level of institutionalisation of good practices.

It think it is time that Stakeholder Engagement Management
also had a maturity model.

Engaging with stakeholders is a vital aspect of effective project management: averting risks, identifying opportunities, and bringing hearts and minds along for the ride. It is also an activity that is increasingly worthy of professional training and standards. Few organizations are successfully rolling out training but I have encountered a couple, and these seem to me to be leading the way. Ironically, the first I came across is in the public sector.

Quite right too: the public sector is in the business of engaging with the public. But the stereotype does not envisage the public sector innovating and getting there first.

But the materials I saw were basic: clearly aimed at first line managers with little experience. Don’t get me wrong: basic is good. But what training does your organisation give to senior practitioners in the advanced techniques for managing a stakeholder engagement campaign, and winning over antagonistic stakeholders?

To me, it seems self-evident that organisations should put stakeholder engagement front and centre of their culture. Customer focused business do this to a limited extent, focusing on one group of stakeholders with a particular impact on their commercial success: what about the rest? The first step to creating a Stakeholder Engagement Culture has to be to take it seriously and assess your own cultural maturity.

My modest proposal offers a basic stakeholder engagement management maturity model. Others will doubtless be better qualified to develop this into a rigorous tool. What matters most is that you start to consider the questions it raises for your orgaisation, and I’d love to hear from you if you do.

Level 1
Ad Hoc

No formal processes, nor recognition of the need for one. Any good work is done independently by individuals. Tools are shared informally among committed individuals and freely adapted, resulting in little or no uniformity.

Level 2
Novice

Awareness of the need for a systematic approach. Project and change management guidelines state requirements for stakeholder engagement management with little more than generic guidance and no substantial training available. Tools are “home-made”.

Level 3
Repeatable

First documentation of stakeholder engagement policies and procedures is produced, with responsibilities allocated and some training available. People are aware of shortcomings and gaps. Simple tools are available centrally.

Level 4
Managed

Clear metrics are established to guide implementation and decision making. Formal procedures are followed and individual levels of expertise are recognized, with formal training and development available. Sophisticated tools are available.

Level 5
Embedded

Stakeholder engagement is embedded in all organisational processes and is a part of the day-to-day culture. Knowledge, skills and techniques are constantly reviewed, with the organisation seen by others as a source of excellence and its senior practitioners regarded as leading experts.


This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 7 October, 2014.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

Exceptional video training programmes, based on my best-selling live seminars.

The Effectiveness Academy
The Effectiveness Academy

 

Climbing to the Apex

Early in your project, you are probably used to thinking about who your stakeholders are and how you are going to manage them. I want to argue that there are always one or two you need to get to first and fast. I call them your ‘Apex Stakeholders.’

When I learned stakeholder analysis, I was taught to consider the impact of the project on stakeholders, the power they have to impact what I was doing, and their attitude to my project. From this, we could prioritise our stakeholders and plan our campaign. And there is nothing wrong with that advice.

… Except, that it misses out the nature of human beings. For example, it is not our high impact supportive stakeholders, nor our high impact antagonistic stakeholders who should dominate our early thinking: we need first to get to those who haven’t made up their minds yet. Sitting on a fence is an unstable posture, and the sooner we can influence them, the better.

Even this has little to say about the social nature of human beings, and stakeholder engagement must, surely, be a social activity. The one characteristic that dominates my current thinking about which stakeholders to prioritise is social influence. This is not, by the way, a bandwagon attitude: the advent of online social media has simply provided a new forum for social influence.

Have you noticed how some people are extremely good at influencing others? Whether through personal charisma, perceived wisdom, or deep technical expertise, others look to them for advice and opinions. Consequently, these stakeholders have become used to weighing the evidence for themselves; they are not easily influenced by others. I call them Apex Stakeholders because they sit at the top of a branching network of social influence.

Apex Stakeholder

Apex Stakeholder

If you can identify your apex stakeholders and provide them with the right information, you can gain a lot of leverage across other stakeholders. Find ways to convert neutral apex stakeholders into apex supporters.

Go further: if you discover an apex agonist – an apex stakeholder who is against what you are doing – their influence will be pervasive and potentially lethal. Make it a top priority to win them around. But mind that you do so with great care: they will not be amenable to manipulation or pressure. You need to play a long-game of building a relationship, winning their trust, and then presenting your evidence.


This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 17 July, 2014.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

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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