By Linda Bourne
As we all know, the problem with best practices is that they slowly slip away as we respond to time pressures, and bad habits take root. We know what’s supposed to be done but settle for good-enough practices—until it’s too late.
Well, the start of a new year brings a new opportunity to refocus on re-establishing good habits in all areas of project management, including stakeholder engagement.
The following four best practices will help you engage with your team and other stakeholders:
1. Listen well and respond promptly
This is the first lesson in stakeholder engagement for a project manager dealing with demanding and influential stakeholders: Listen well and respond promptly to stakeholder requests as appropriate to the level of need and the stakeholder priority.
Responding quickly to a request shows you respect the person making the request; but responding does not mean you’re agreeing or dropping everything else. A suitable response may be to say no or to schedule an action at an appropriate future date.
2. Connect with others who share your goals
Stakeholder engagement is required when you alone cannot achieve your goals, particularly goals that you share with others. You cannot achieve these goals without ongoing, effective stakeholder dialogue. This includes connecting with your team, networking with your peers and building “organizational currency” for use in the future when you need to influence others (see my post from a few years back about “Influence Without Authority”).
3. Commit to consultation before decision-making
Don’t try to engineer in advance the outcomes of stakeholder dialogue. An open discussion, without prejudicing any of the outcomes in advance, almost always results in a better decision. If stakeholders think you are just trying to persuade them to accept an outcome that is already set in stone, they will disengage and become cynical.
However, if you’ve already made a decision, respect your team and pass on the information—don’t pretend to consult.
4. Stay focused on common goals
In project management this ought to be easy—a successful project outcome benefits everyone. But project managers sometimes fear that stakeholder engagement will force them into doing things they may not want to do. This is unlikely to happen if you focus your communication and engagement activities on the common goals you share with your stakeholders. The dialogue then becomes a discussion about options for achieving shared goals, not a series of demands by either party.
None of this is rocket science, but effectively engaging your stakeholders, leading to constructive dialogue that drives project success, does require planning, processes and time. Given the myriad time pressures we all face day-to-day, it’s all too easy to see these simple practices as low-priority activities and start ignoring your stakeholder community—until it’s too late and you have a major crisis on your hands.
Make 2016 the year you move beyond crisis management.