Careers blog: 5 key principles of stakeholder engagement

23 June 2020

A substantial part of most managerial and professional roles involves taking part in, or leading, projects and change initiatives. In these times of constant change, in not only how we work or what we will be working on, it makes sense to attend to the people who can make us successful.

When you think about it, everything you do has a touchpoint of one kind or another with numerous stakeholders, some more influential than others and some with a vested interest in your success. A stakeholder then, is any person or group who is either impacted by a proposed change or who can influence the outcome of any proposed change. Think of them as the people who will determine the success – or failure – of what you are trying to achieve: whether it is winning a proposal, implementing a new way of doing things, or delivering a project.

Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management are arguably the most important ingredients for any successful project delivery, and yet can become a fringe activity if neglected. In simple terms, stakeholder management is the process of forming, monitoring and most importantly, maintaining positive relationships with stakeholders. These are either specific individuals, groups or even organisations that can affect or be affected by a programme. Effective stakeholder management can create constructive relationships through the appropriate management of expectations and agreed objectives. Managing stakeholders can be a project in itself that sometimes, if not executed correctly, can turn uncontrollable.

So what is the best way to ensure success?

Step 1: Identify

Your work or your teams may have been significantly impacted by the ‘new normal’ so checking in and  identifying  who your stakeholders are, and being clear about what your goals are for engaging with them, is a vital prerequisite to the commencement of any project.  Additionally, this will assist you in determining their level of influence and interest in the project. It is useful to complete a stakeholder analysis when you are first considering a change or at the start of a new project and it’s important to keep this updated throughout the project.

Step 2: Analyse

The more you understand about each stakeholder, the more effectively you can engage with them and influence them.  As you will have limitations on your time and resources, prioritise your interactions with them and allocate your resources accordingly. So take time to understand just whom you have available to support you in the engagement process, and what skills and approaches they can bring to bear. Stakeholder analysis typically categorises people in terms of a) how they are impacted, and b) their level of commitment.

Step 3: Plan

The third step is to draw up a campaign plan for engaging and communicating with your stakeholders. This involves setting out the messages you will give, the approaches you will take, who tackles each assignment and when, and how you will gauge and handle the feedback you get. Considering the frequency and type of communication is also important; not all stakeholders need the same information and all of the time!

Step 4: Act and Engage

This is where you engage your stakeholders and seek to harness their insights and influence their attitudes. Where you encounter resistance, you will need to handle this positively in order to remove it where possible. Think about how you create wins, how you address their issues and how you build on their support. Try to identify their goals and observe how they think the project will impact them. And, accept that sometimes they may not behave in a rational, consistent and predictable way - they are only human!

Step 5: Review

The review cycle is critical to the success of your stakeholder engagement campaign. Constantly monitor the outcomes of your communication with stakeholders and reassess your plans where necessary. It is also useful to step back and look at the big picture, reviewing which new stakeholders are appearing on the landscape and how you need to engage with them. Do you need to consider a different approach? We all have different preferences on how we like to be communicated with, think back to Insights and MBTI profiles for further thoughts on influencing types. Given that face to face meetings in real time may not happen for a while, what is the best form of communication for your stakeholders?

If you are interested in finding out more on stakeholder management, I would recommend reading ‘The Influence Agenda: A systematic approach to aligning stakeholders in times of change’ by Mike Clayton.

If you are a WBS alumni and would like some guidance, please don’t hesitate to email the careers team at alumnicareers@wbs.ac.uk.

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