Beyond Stakeholder Management

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My mentor in this field -- Julio Matus Nakamura, a project manager -- once told me, "In any organization, there aren't just processes, projects, strategies or tools. What really matters is people."

That lesson, learned long ago, taught me that no matter a person's position, he or she is a human being first. It's very important to build trust among human beings in order to believe in each other. When I realized that, I vowed to establish that type of relationship with my stakeholders -- to build that trust and try to create a more personal relationship with them.

In my opinion, in some cases it's more important to have a good relationship with the sponsor or customer than the results of the project.

I'm not suggesting you forget about your project's results or even the contract. Just that you should put the same emphasis in building a deeper relationship with your key stakeholders as you put in delivering good results and caring about contract issues.

Here are some simple tips that I have used for a while. I hope it may help you when building a relationship with your stakeholders:

1. Use basic manners: Always say hello, goodbye, thanks, please, well done, good job and I'm sorry. These are powerful little words that can make a big difference.

2. Show respect: Often when we are in a conversation with someone, we are not 100 percent in the conversation. You must be present. No excuses. When talking with someone, pay all of your attention to what the person is saying. Avoid thinking about your response when the other party talks; just listen carefully to what's being said.

3. Learn to read body language: We communicate more with our body than with our words. Learn to "listen" to the body of your counterpart and learn to speak with your body. For example, don't cross your arms during a conversation, as this can seem standoffish. Make eye contact during conversation and always face the person to whom you're talking.

4. Share something personal: Find affinities with your stakeholder wherever possible. This could be the university where you studied, the town where you grew up, vacations you've taken, books you've read, or your favorite team and sport. Make sure to find the appropriate moment to share these commonalities.

5. Break the ice: Read the environment around your stakeholder and discover his or her interests. At the first opportunity, bring those interests into the conversation.

What about you? What tools or techniques do you use to build trust with your stakeholders?

Posted by Jorge Valdés Garciatorres on: January 03, 2012 10:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Scott Cosgrove
I couldn't agree more. For all the talk of PM tools, in the end, people are the key tool we have to get the job done and how we manage them is the key to success. They'll make it or break it, plain and simple.

And while I've referred to Stakeholder Management as "herding cats," I also recognize it as the one most critical element in a successful project. So saddle up, we've gotta drive these kitties to the promised land!

PM Hut
Some tips:

- Listen to them when they're saying something
- Don't ignore them
- Stay clear from them when they're clearly having a bad day
- Smile when you're at the presence of a stakeholder!

Menno Valkenburg, PMP
Thank you for this great post, Jorge.

In order to build trust with my stakeholders I always try to manage their expectations. I will be open on what can and what cannot be realistically expected and achieved within the project.

Also, I try to set a good example. For example, ensure to be on time for the meeting or even a little early to prepare for a good meeting. An early start is a key success factor in achieving milestones so I try to relay that message to my stakeholders as well to further build trust in the relationship.

Lech Ambrzykowski
Thanks for the food for thought, Jorge. Many of the things I try to do in one-to-one stakeholder interactions is linked with respecting the other person (I've heard that savoir-vivre is about practicing respect actually). As Project Managers we are often dealing with people who have challenging calendars, many responsibilities and burdens. Then again, everyone feels their lives are more challenging *wink* Since we want to have stakeholders on our side, respect is the least we can do, and the starting point for any discussion, for that matter. Apart from active stakeholder management (this often remains a best practice in theory only), some practical applications I follow: * Being 100% prepared for meetings Preparing points for discussion, support materials, providing a separate copy of *any* handout — for reference, for further follow-up, taking notes and easier discussion. Alas, it bugs me when I see someone not following this practice (something I have to learn to deal with). This also means leading meetings — stating upfront the time required, providing agendas (where advisable — sometimes we might see it fit to withhold information for a moment or two), making sure the objectives are clear, steps are followed, todos followed up, responsible, and deadlines set. Thanking the participant(s) and following up [yet again] is quite important too. I know these are basics, at least in theory, but it's like with the saying — “common sense is not common practice.” One good advise is getting to know more about group-thinking techniques or having some usable ones at hand. Even for one-to-one meetings. Toolbox, in essence. * Simplifying the message / using visuals If I expect the discussion to be fruitful, I will make sure to provide more visuals rather than text information only. Granted, these will take more time to develop, but often it's more like an investment — the time we put into creating them will be given back twofold (or more) the moment we start communicating. By the same token, we can make sure there is a pad or a flipchart at hand during our meetings (something Pawel Brodzinski would like for sure - ). * Getting to know the person even more You've mentioned that already. I often try to find something more about the other person outside the company, e.g. see if there is anything on the Internet (LinkedIn, Twitter and the likes). It helps. And then there's the next point... * Moving on to private... This is something I was told by a more experienced person than I am. One of the goals in an interaction is moving on to a personal level (where possible / where time allows). It's no small matter — we have to watch our tempo, observe the other person, see what's *really* important to them... Respect acts like a bridge to make that happen. When we manage to get there... things become much easier, don't they? I think there's a lot we can learn from sales here. I believe our practice greatly depends on the types of stakeholders we used to interact with most in the past. Experience in different environments — markets, project types (e.g. consultancy, finance, business side, IT side) — helps in building our standards. There's difference between projects and programs too (the latter are focused more on delivering change and often involve frequent interactions with top management). Thanks again and have a great day!

Brian Adamson
Totally agree with much of the article. The human aspects of change are often the area given least priority or focus. We put a great deal of effort looking at process and systems change, but the human changes at individual, team and even organisational culture level can often be some of the most difficult to manage.

I see some easy steps to attempt to overcome the difficulties.

1) Involve stakeholders at all levels in the vision
(or be very clear in situations where stakeholders will lose something - e.g. status, job etc)

2). Ensure if people are representing stakeholders that they actually represent and not just put forward their own views.

3) Use coaching sessions to explore opportunities and possibilities with individuals

4) Work with teams - allowing them to express concerns, doubts and then build the future ways of working with them.

5) Never lose sight of the question that everybody will be asking, which is 'What's in it for me?'

Interested to hear others views.

Juan Rutiaga
Leadership technics taught to me a long time ago are what I use to built trust and an open line of communication with either a manager or project teams, I agree that the most important task is to built trust with in your project managers and team for productivity. You have to remember we all have one goal in common, that is to complete all work, be either task, projects or management. In this new high speed environment, people have forgotten many day to day approaches to life. You don't alway pay attention to the little parts that make the simplest task more difficult. A simply hi how are you before asking the results of a task or update on a project go a long way of getting a true response.

While getting the job done in the allotted time frame is the main provocative, other aspects are also important as they all form a chain reaction. Having a great relationship with stakeholders helps to make the work more efficient. Most of my clients have heard about me by word of mouth, so they always expect great work but a relationship must be built to achieve that. So I always try to build a great relationship before I get down to business.
Thank you for reading.

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