Over the years, I’ve witnessed many take stakeholder identification, analysis, engagement and communication lightly, and guess what was the end result?
- Frustration of stakeholders
- Delays in approvals
- Wrong flow of information
- Decrease in buy-in and key stakeholders support
- Low morale across the team
- Delays in schedules
- Significant re-work
- Loss of clients/ business
Proper stakeholder engagement and effective communication can go a long way and contribute big time towards the success of the project. It is the golden card that every management professional should hold on to and use wisely and as needed. Again, it is stakeholder “engagement”, not stakeholder “management”. Stakeholders don’t like to be managed but they appreciate being engaged and this is often another trap that many fall into as they spend time managing stakeholders rather than engaging them.
Stakeholder engagement is about two important things: Effective communication and transparency. Both communication and transparency go hand in hand. The more you communicate efficiently and effectively in a very transparent way, the more you will gain the stakeholders’ trust and buy-in and to be clear, communicating and stakeholder engagement is not only about “verbal communication”. There are many ways you can communicate and engage stakeholders through-out the project:
- Brainstorming sessions
- Review meetings
- Solution assessment
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Periodic audits
- Project health checks
But hey, hold on! While it is important to engage stakeholders and communicate with them, make sure you make those decisions and plan for them objectively based on a proper analysis of their attitude, power, and interest. For example, you communicate and approach a stakeholder who is resistant to the project but has high power and interest differently than a stakeholder who is resistant but has low power and interest. If you engage with stakeholders arbitrarily and do not make informed decision then you are wasting your time, their time and most probably causing harm to the project more than having a good impact on it.
Personally, I find planning for stakeholder engagement and their communication as being one of the most important tasks at the outset of the project, during the project and even after the project closure to maintain future relationships. I’ve seen projects that are very well planned for time, budget, risk and quality but have poor communication and stakeholder engagement levels and the end result was that those projects either failed or barely survived.
You as a management professional should use your soft skills to ensure you bring people together, consult with them, achieve consensus among them, resolve conflict between them, and above all make them feel valued and that their opinion matters.