Tag Archives: stakeholders

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 The term ‘Stakeholder Management’ seems to me to be outdated; an artifact of a time when project managers were optimistically naïve enough to believe that every aspect of a project could be wholly within their control.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


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


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


  • … 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’.

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The Effectiveness Academy


The Mother of All Stakeholders

How big do stakeholders get?

I was personally pleased when I recently worked with a major multi-national organization that puts sustainability right at the heart of everything it does – including new projects and programmes.

The question is, how to fit it into your projects, if it is not baked into everything that your organization does? As project managers, we have choices and I’d like to highlight four approaches to building sustainability into your projects.

Choice 1: The Financial Approach

You can build sustainability into your projects by ensuring that that your investment appraisal and business case are predicated around whole -life costs and returns or, if this is not possible, for any reason, at least look at the longest time horizon possibly. An example is schools building and renovation: why do so many public authorities insist on a payback on energy efficiency investments that is substantially shorter than the planned lifetime of the school and the assets that might be installed?

Choice 2: The Specification Approach

The second approach sees sustainability as an element of the quality of your project, to be explicitly balanced against time and budgetary objectives. The problem with this approach comes when the organization chooses to prioritise time or cost, leaving sustainability as the poor relation that gets abandoned. This is an application of the right principle, but puts sustainability at the back of the queue.

Choice 3: The Risk Approach

The commonest approach I have seen is a deeply pessimistic one. Sustainability and environmental concerns make their only appearance in projects, via the risk register. Whilst proactive risk management is recognized by most PMs as an essential component of planning and control, this approach effectively relegates sustainability to an after-thought.

Choice 4: The Stakeholder Approach

My preferred approach is to treat Mother Nature as a stakeholder in your projects. The stakeholder revolution that began in the 1930s with E Merrick Dodd and matured in the 1980s with R Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, which put people on an equal footing with profit on organisation’s agendas.

I’d like to see that go a step further, and John Elkington’s concept of ‘the triple bottom line’ seems to me the best framework. Elkington saw three equally important bottom line measures: the profit account, the people account and the planet account.

Let’s start to consider our planet as a real stakeholder in everything we do as PMs. This does not mean it should come first, but it would require us to take full account of its needs throughout our projects, from definition to decommissioning. Only when you do this will you be sure you are thinking through all aspects of your project’s viability and the wellbeing of your other, human, stakeholders.

This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 1 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

10 Things you can do, to Get Project Governance Right: Part 2

Last week, I started my look at ten simple and highly time/cost-effective ways to strengthen your project governance. Here are numbers 6 to 10.

6. A Regular and Comprehensive Status Report

This can be expensive and time consuming, but you need to consider that overhead against the benefits a short, well-structure, current and incisive report can give to you the project manager, to your sponsor and to all decision-makers and stakeholders.

Always build your reports bottom-up starting from the data. This is the best way to avoid ‘confirmation bias’. Confirmation bias happens when you start with your Project Manager’s Assessment summary and then cherry pick the evidence to support your reading of the situation. You are far too unlikely to spot and consider the one piece of deviant, dis-confirming evidence.

7. Real Authority

Make sure that your project team as a whole has real authority to make changes in your organisation, backed up by a powerful governance hierarchy. If the change is important, that authority is merited. If the change is not important, then the project is not merited: cancel it. Only this way, with sufficient authority, can your project management function rise above the petty ‘local politics’ that most organisations suffer from..

8. Project Validation Reviews

If you were surprised last week to read that I have only been commissioned by four organisations to train their project sponsors, then I have only been commissioned once to train project reviewers. And then, I was commissioned not by a project, programme or change management function, but by a senior internal audit manager.

Validate your project by getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over the basics of what you are doing and the quality and performance that are the result. This need not involve calling external resources like your friendly neighbourhood auditors or consultants – nor even by calling me. Find an experienced project manager in your organisation and invite them in to help. If you are feeling daring and want the best value, challenge them to find:

  • three examples of bad practice
  • three sources of significant waste
  • three defects or accidents waiting to happen
  • three examples of exemplary performance
  • three things you should be celebrating
  • three people you should be talking to

9. Attention to Stakeholders

This last point reminds me that you should always give more attention to winning over your stakeholders than you would expect. And this is not because stakeholder engagement will be the subject of my next book (sneak peak). Think about the governance benefits of:

  1. Wider consultation and therefore stronger scrutiny of your ideas
  2. Higher levels of support for what you are doing
  3. Formal approval from a wide range of non-mandatory stakeholders

10. Remove Bureaucracy

Yup, I did say ‘remove bureaucracy’. Inexperienced project managers often assume project management involves a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling. It should not. Remove all bureaucracy that has no value for your project or programme. The only reason to keep an element of form-filling is either:

  • it will help you to deliver your project on budget, on target and on time, or
  • it will help you do so in a transparent and accountable manner

What Machiavelli can teach us

ThePrince I was listening to Jonathan Powell on the radio recently, talking about his new book, “The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World“, about Tony Blair’s term as Prime Minister.  Powell was Blair’s Chief of Staff and uses Machiavelli’s “The Prince” as a hook for his book.

Having started drawing lessons from one mediaeval text (Hagakure – the Way of the Samurai) for earlier blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I thought I might flick through my tattered copy of The Prince and look for some gems.

Continue reading

True Vision or just Good Words

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the poverty of language used in corporate environments.  People seem to swing to one of two extremes:

  • Complex, jargon heavy language, wrapped in convoluted syntax
  • Simplistic statements that tend to hyperbole and cliché

L-Hand On the one hand, authors of management drivel seem to think that the more jargon they can use and the longer their sentences, then the more intelligent they will appear.  Either that, or they are afraid that they will expose their own weak understanding of a complex situation, if they tried to explain it clearly.

R-Hand On the other hand, some authors take the commendable “keep it simple, stupid” message to extremes.  They move from simple to simplistic in one smooth sashay and, in so doing, lose the meaning or distort the truth.

Whatever happened to style and structure?

Yes; I am aware that, on this topic, I am sitting in a glass house, throwing stones outwards.

It’s a Vision Thing

Many organisations have picked up on the need to create a compelling vision to drive their change programmes.  Some project managers have even embraced the value of articulating their project goal with a clear vision.

The problem is that most vision statements contain no vision.  They are often crafted by a committee, following a “visioning” workshop, or are put together in a rush, as an afterthought.

For a vision statement to have vision, it must create images in our minds.  Let’s look at two versions of a powerful vision statement and see how they compare on those stakes.

Version 1.

“I have a vision for an ethnically diverse society in which everybody has full equality of opportunity and where we can harness the synergies of a multi-ethnic workforce, collaborating to construct an enhanced society.”

Version 2.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”

No prizes for knowing whose is the latter version.  The question is, how inspired would people have been by version 1?  It cover all the right topics, but it is devoid of the vision it claims.


Let us Compare the Two

What is it that Dr King was able to do with his rhetoric?  I am no expert, but it is clear that the real difference is that King’s words create images in our mind and sensations in our bodies.

Phrases like “sit down together at a table of freedom” and “sweltering with the heat of injustice” and “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls” lodge in your mind and cannot be moved.

Move People

If you are trying to move people, I think your language needs an emotional charge; I think it needs to be precise; and I think it needs to engage the senses.

It seems to me that, when thinking about creating change, and the need to move people’s attitudes from one place to another, it is no coincidence that the word “move” has two meanings.

I can move you physically and I can move you emotionally.  Can you move your people from one culture to another, or from one way of doing things to another, without also moving them emotionally?

How wonderful language is.  Let’s use it to its fullest extent.

The “so what?”

Take a look at the words you use to describe your project and the vision you have created for your change programme.  Does it move you?  Do the words craft magic, conjour images, entrance and captivate?  If not, you have a job to do.

Remember, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.  Take a fine writing implement and a fresh sheet of paper.

Why Handling Resistance is like Sharing Pie

It’s commonly said that the two most feared workplace situations are networking and presentations.  I wonder if most managers don’t anticipate something else with still greater trepidation: resistance.

Resistance is a constant feature of projects, change programmes, day-to-day negotiations, sales and even presentations.  Most people view it a sign of failure: failure to communicate, failure to manage stakeholders, failure to plan.

Resistance ≠ Failure

In fact, resistance is not a sign of failure: it is inevitable.  So we need a toolkit of techniques to deal with it (maybe in the form of a handy Pocketbook*).

One of may favourites is is rather like sharing a pizza, or a pie.


It’s Easier to Build Agreement upon Agreement

It’s a pretty thankless task trying to get agreement from someone who disagrees with you.  It is far easier to start from a base of agreement.

So start by splitting the problem up:

“You don’t agree with my conclusions: is it the findings you disagree with or the way I interpreted them?”

“The findings are fine.  Your analysis is wrong.”

“Okay, so we’re agreed on the findings.  Now, you don’t like my analysis: is it the methodology you disagree with, or the way I carried it out?”

“You worked through it fine,
but you should never have taken that approach.”

“Good, so let’s discuss what other approaches I could take.”

The Process is Straightforward

Continually try to divide the scope of your disagreement into two or three chunks and establish which chunk or chunks you can agree on.  What this does is build rapport – it shows both you and your resister what you have in common and gives you a shared base to work on your differences.

At the same time it demonstrates to your resister that their disagreement with you is not all-encompassing.

What if they say “I reject everything you say”?

It happens.  You ask:

“You don’t agree with my conclusions: is it the findings you disagree with or the way I interpreted them?”

and they answer:

“Both.  I disagree with your findings and
how you interpreted them.”

You the do the sensible thing and say:

“Okay, let’s look at my findings one by one and see which you agree with and which you do not.”

… and they soon let you know that they disagree with all of your findings.

We will set aside the question of whether or not there is a “hidden” objection buried here, and that they have a deeper, more fundamental concern and are hiding behind.  Let’s consider the scenario that they really do reject every scrap of what you present.

How can you find a Tiny Slice of Pie to Agree on?

My favourite slicing method is this:

“Well, we certainly do have very different perspective on this issue.  Can we at least agree that this is an important topic and set aside some time to work on it together?”

If they do agree, you have the start of agreement and a way to move forward.  If they do not agree, then they are saying that the matter is not important to them, and perhaps you can get permission to move forward with others.

The “so what?”

Rule 1 when dealing with resistance: stay respectful.  You will rarely face total disagreement.  Look for a start to an agreement and build out from there.

* A handy pocketbook on handling resistance?  What a coincidence.  Management Pocketbooks have  commissioned me to write The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, due out in autumn 2010.  In the meantime, The Management Models Pocketbook is available from all good booksellers.

For occasional tips and news of new titles, follow @ManaPocketbooks on Twitter.

“It isn’t fair”

– Retrospective Changes to MPs’ Allowances

“It isn’t fair” Britain’s MPs are saying.  Well, – Shift Happens!

Whilst many of us feel a distinct sense of schadenfreude at MPs having to repay what we see as unreasonable expense claims, there are a few, fair minded folk, who share their sense of injustice.  “It just is not fair to change the rules at the end of the game,” they say.

I think I’m one of them.  I like to know what the rules are so I can moan about them.  Then, I knuckle down and figure out how to work within them – albeit, as close to the boundary as I can get.

Then, I put on my project manager’s hat.  Because for us, fairness and rules are not part of our world.  Shift happens and it often isn’t fair.  It’s just the universe kicking us from behind and reminding us that we are not in charge.  So we don’t moan (except in the pub) and we don’t feel happy when it happens to our colleagues (except in the pub).  Instead, we get down and manage the changes.

When talking about projects, one of the questions I am most commonly asked is how to deal with the client, or the boss, or the sponsor moving the goal posts.  A good change control process is vital, but for me the real answer comes right at the start of the project: how have you anchored those goal posts in the first place?  It seems to me there are three types of fixing.

Let’s get going and figure it out as we go along

This is the project management equivalent of a pair of jumpers.  The goal posts are just where we put them and there is no certainty where they are really supposed to be.  Don’t be surprised when someone picks them up and moves them – or even takes them away.  An adequate approach for a kick around in the park.

Let’s sit down and write out our scope and then start planning

Now it’s as if we’ve got a couple of sticks and we’ve bashed them into the ground with a shoe.  This is a pretty good approach if your project will get done quickly and the impact it will have on your stakeholders is minimal.

Let’s work with our stakeholders to define exactly what we need

Cementing the goal posts into the ground does not preclude someone from coming along with a digger, but it will certainly make them think about it carefully before they do.  This approach works when you have a significant project and you want to avoid un-necessary change down the line.

So what about our MPs?  It seems like the system they designed was little more than a couple of sticks bashed in the ground.  They thought about the system they wanted, giving little thought to what the voters might consider fair.  After all, you can argue about how much it is right to pay your gardener, but how many people are in jobs where they can get their gardener paid for by their employer?

The “so what?”

Talk to your stakeholders, find out what they want, what they need and what they care about, negotiate hard, take the time, secure matching resources… or go back and re-negotiate with your stakeholders, then publish a scope and objectives that everyone has contributed to.

Oh, and have a good change control process as well!