“Influencing stakeholders is something we do from birth,” said Guy Giffin, speaking at the latest APM Women in Project Management conference. “As soon as you are dealing with more than a couple of stakeholders, you’re dealing with a number of conflicting views and interests.”
Giffin explained that “the same old things” keep turning up on the list of challenges for projects and that they nearly all have some link back to the humans involved in running the project. “It’s hard to give you a recipe for success,” he said. “Some analysis is scientific but building relationships is more art. Charm certainly comes into it.”
Giffin shared his 4 step process for managing stakeholders with the audience. “Some people get hung up about ‘engaging’ instead of ‘managing’,” he said. Whatever you call it, you need to go further than just plotting names on a chart and analysing impact and influence. Here are his 4 steps to better stakeholder management.
“Some appropriate questions asked in the right way can get you some good information,” Giffin said. The pool of stakeholders is probably wider than you first thought, so asking individuals for their view on who should be involved is a good way to identify your full stakeholder group.
The more you know about them, the easier it is to manage them. Giffin recommended finding out all you can about the stakeholders you have identified. Do this via their LinkedIn profiles, the company annual report (for the C-suite executives), a Google search or just by asking around.
This step is about defining their role in the project. They may be the budget holder, or a representative of a group that needs to be kept informed. Determine what their role is and then you can judge the best compromises to use.
Giffin recommends using “all your weapons” to sell the project to the stakeholders. He talked about using allies on the project – those key stakeholders who strongly support the project’s aims. Get them involved in the sales activity on the project and encourage them to spread the word about the initiative and the changes that are coming. Use public relations activity – get your PR team involved and do as much communication as possible. Use internal newsletters, a wiki or an intranet site for this.
Project managers need to become experts in managing relationships. We need to understand EQ – the emotional equivalent of IQ. We need to be skilled in political science to be able to navigate through the boundaries of organisational politics. We need to understand social psychology. Good stakeholder managers are experts in communication and listening. They are great at consulting and they show deep empathy with the people they are working with, and working for. “It’s a bit of science, a bit of art, and a bit of luck,” Giffin said.
How to sell when you have no money
One of the questions from the audience was about how you can win over stakeholders when you have no budget for entertaining or ‘schmoozing’. “Asking good questions is a good start,” Giffin replied. There is a lot of mileage to be had in making sure that you have a proper, full understanding of the challenges facing stakeholders and the concerns they have about the project. Spend time with them understanding their world, and asking intelligent questions.
Once you have done that (and this is the bit that Giffin didn’t really cover) you need to follow up on your discussion sessions. It’s no good asking questions if you cannot resolve any issues that are raised. Even if there is nothing you can do, go back to the stakeholder in question, thank them for their input and explain why you cannot make the change they requested. This is an easy, free way to build a good relationship with stakeholders when your project budget does not stretch to corporate hospitality.
Just a note on hospitality: if you do decide to go down this route and host events for stakeholders or similar, be careful not to fall foul of the law in this area. In the UK, the Bribery Act sets out what you can and cannot do in a workplace setting, and I’m sure other countries have similar regulations.