Stakeholder management is about facilitating interaction between and among people. It is an activity best performed with intention. Done well, stakeholder management involves a number of skills, specifically: discovery, analysis, and diplomacy.
Bringing people together in meaningful ways requires knowledge of a few critical things:
Finding out stakeholder expectations can be delightfully easy or agonizingly difficult. When you start identifying motivations behind the expectations, the landscapes and portraits of the stakeholders come into focus. It starts with asking.
Stakeholders are always interconnected in some way. Starting with participation in the initiative, each role will interact with any number of individuals in one on one or in group settings. Stakeholders may or may not be dependent on each other and those dependencies may shift during the arc of a project. Knowing what the dependency constellation looks like at any point in time is a very useful piece of information.
Every situation is unique with respect to its timing, participants, and purpose. These three attributes form the basis of context. Remove any attribute and the context will be incomplete. Making decisions or taking action when context is unknown or incomplete is not a recommended practice.
Just collecting data and information about stakeholders is not enough. Adaptive leaders know that analysis leading to diagnosis is a critical activity in continuous motion for the entire initiative. Every piece of intelligence that’s gathered needs to be analysed not only for its content but for how it potentially affects the associated stakeholders.
An example of this would be a scenario where information was received that your project sponsor’s budget is about to be cut. If you have on your to do list to get approval from that stakeholder for new costs associated with their project, analysis would suggest the best time to ask would be ASAP.
Outside of the international connotations, diplomacy is defined as tact or skill in dealing with people. It is the activity where information from discovery and analysis is used to fashion communication.
In the same way that violating cultural norms negatively affect how people react to messages they receive, diplomacy seeks to remove any impediments to being understood. In the previous example, just asking for additional money without necessarily providing reasons that are compelling, might have worked when budgets were flush, but a direct ask under the scenario described may not be successful. In this case, “backing” into the request by first discussing the merits of the project would be a more diplomatic approach.
One last important note on diplomacy: put yourself in the stakeholders position and think before you speak or click send.
Stakeholder management is perhaps the single most critical activity a project manager needs to perform well. Following the guidelines can ensure you are well positioned when communicating with your stakeholders, regardless of their roles.
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