Project Management

5 Levels of Stakeholder Involvement – Which lead to success?

From the Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders Blog
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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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Involving people in the organizational change initiative is often an afterthought – after the change plan is ready for implementation.  However, this assumes that you can engage people whenever you desire, and the outcome will be the same.  Wrong!

There are five levels of involvement that can occur at different times when planning and implementing the change initiative.  Choosing when to involve stakeholders may depend on confidentiality and sensitivity, but the decision is often a reactive choice made without much thought. 

The five levels of involvement are:

  1. Telling – mandate the change (good luck!)
  2. Selling – convince them of the benefit to them and organization (traditional)
  3. Testing – bounce ideas off them to get their reaction
  4. Consulting – bring them into the planning process by asking for their advice
  5. Co-creating – make them part of the planning team – full buy-in

Too often, change managers would like to shortcut the process by using #1 – telling.  However, they know they will get immediate push-back so they undertake #2 – selling.  An entire communication plan is built around raising awareness of the problem and pushing for a decision-balance in favor of the planned change and the change process already put in place.  Both #1 and #2 are initiated after the change plan is prepared and ready for implementation.  You can expect better engagement with selling than telling, but it still a hard job because most people will be at Stage 1 (unaware of the problem) or 2 (uncertain of the costs and potential benefit) of the Stages of Change.

If there is already some fear of resistance, some change managers will test ideas (#3) on those impacted to understand the degree of probable resistance so a resistance plan can be prepared.  This testing would be done part way through the change planning process when the change objective is already established, after the stakeholder analysis raises some worries about the degree of impact on certain groups of people. 

Involvement level 4 – consulting – starts to bring people into the planning process but not with full membership.  The key is learning from those most impacted by any changes, and better still, learning what you do not know, that you need to know (before you learn it the hard way).  One way of thinking about involvement at this level and the next is – Go slow early to go fast later.  Time spent working with stakeholders early will save time later with quicker implementation and less resistance.

Best of all is Level 5 – co-creating where those impacted by the change take control over their situation and play key roles in setting the change objective and deciding on the best change process to employ.  While the change sponsor may not be in control, the result can be shepherded by clarifying the problem situation and articulating any constraints the organization may be facing.  One challenge using this level of involvement occurs when confidentiality or some degree of secrecy is required.  If this is the case, there may be a need to back off a level or two, knowing that some efficiency may be sacrificed for feasibility. 

How you involve people in the change process is a choice – that often leads to how successful the change initiative will be. 

Moving to Action:

  1. Where are you in your current project?
    • Project & challenge clarification?
    • Formulating a solution (Objective)?
    • Preparing an Implementation Plan?
    • Implementation already underway?
  2. What Level of Involvement have you used?  Or considering using?
  3. What is preventing you from moving to a higher level of involvement?
  4. What changes should you make now to increase your chances of success?

Posted by Ross Wirth on: March 09, 2020 12:02 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Very good discussion with clearly staated points. Thanks for sharing.

Interesting way to present it. I have had more success implementing change from top to bottom.

Vincent - I believe how you involve people is a separate decision from the choice of a top-down or bottom-up change process. However, bottom-up change does require higher levels of involvement due to the lack of positional authority necessary for lower involvement levels.

Very Good information, At this point I'm working in some changes in an organization, everything was running pretty well untill I do some changes in a seller's responsabilities, so I tried to do level 5 with the Sponsor and try to do an easier change in that position but this sponsor just stopped the change and asked me for another option, at this point I felt a little frustrated but now I'm working in different options hopping that these options will be studied. What would you do If the sponsor doesn't want to co-create but he is not content with the desition.

Agree - only hard thing with 5 is that in the modern day getting people to agree to give time can be quite a challenge. Once there they love it and the outcomes are brilliant but to get them in the room in the first place - I'd love to hear people tips and tricks.

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