I once walked into a bookstore and stopped by the self-help section. Every book talked about how I can change myself. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single book to change others :)
On a serious note, success at work depends on our ability to work well with our stakeholders — those colleagues that we depend on, and who depend on us, to get to the outcomes we want.
To get to our outcomes, we are making changes and introducing new ideas. As we rise in our careers and the scope of our influence and impact grows, the changes we introduce ends up impacting others as well, so many of these stakeholders will have a say in the process. They may like your proposed changes and become an advocate for your changes. Or they may have reservations and need to be convinced. Worse, they may dislike your proposal and may actively work to block progress. Depending on their power levels in the organization, your initiative may succeed or fail, if these stakeholders are not actively managed.
Most people have an intuitive, and potentially unstructured, way to manage these stakeholders. You know who the important people are, and you will reach out to them to get their ideas and form a plan accordingly. I’d like to share how we can do better than intuitive plans. With an active framework for stakeholder management, we can all do a lot better. Better planning and anticipation will lessen stress, grow the probability of success and hopefully increase your satisfaction and happiness of a successful project. So let’s dive in!
Who are your stakeholders? The initial list is easy — it is the people who are working on and contributing to the product or idea.
Now extend the list to include their managers or extended staff who may need to know about this. Secondly, ask your co-contributors who else may need to know or get an update on this project. They might surprise you with names that you did not consider. For example, I was working on lowering the price of a product in an attempt to improve conversion rates from free trial to paid. By asking who should be informed of the upcoming changes, I discovered a sales leader that was worried (incorrectly) about revenue cannibalization. This sales leader just became a stakeholder and I was able to identify this person by asking my current stakeholders.
Once these stakeholders have been identified, a great way to organize them and build a customized stakeholder management plan is by building a Power-Interest matrix or grid.
The Power-Interest Grid
This is a 2x2 matrix that looks like this:
- Power — these are the folks with the decision making authority. A good proxy of where power lies is the organizational chart, since people higher in the org chart have more power.
- Interest — these are the folks that have a deep interest in the product or initiative you are sponsoring. Their interest may stem from their subject matter expertise and a desire to help, or, more likely, the impact your proposal will have on their areas.
Map Your Stakeholders
Now map all the stakeholders you identified into one of the quadrants above. Identify if these stakeholders are for, against or neutral in their support for your product or initiative. Color coding their names as you place them in these quadrants is a good way to visually represent their status.
High Power-High Interest: These stakeholders can make or break the success of your product or initiative and are your highest priority stakeholders. It is possible not everyone is for your proposal, so they need to be managed closely. Tactics you can use to influence can be
- In a 1:1 setting, understand their goals and objections and how you can flex or reframe your product’s success with their goals.
- Enlist support from other high power-high interest stakeholders who are advocates for your proposal and can help influence the others in this quadrant.
- Take a customized approach, don’t try to manage them similarly because they are all in the same category. Understand what these stakeholders value. For example, one of my high power-high interest stakeholders expects rapid responses to their email or chat requests. Adjusting to these stakeholder expectations helps improve their perception of you, and by extension, opens up opportunities to find that win-win balance.
Steering committee style meetings, where there is a mix of strategic updates as well as asking for decisions on tie breaking topics, work well for these stakeholders.
High Power-Low Interest: Don’t confuse their lack of interest as a signal for keeping them out of the loop. You should assess if any of the stakeholders that fall in this category, are against your project and remediate that right way. Once you have secured that broad alignment, your goal is to ensure they stay in, and don’t fall out of, alignment. Find the right balance to keep these stakeholders informed, check in periodically that they are up to date with the progress and key decisions, and be mindful to not overburden them with trivia that further dilutes their interest in the project. You should check they are feeling sufficiently informed on progress and wouldn’t need to use their authority in a way that surprises you. Avoid the curse of knowledge and stop loading them with background information that you think is essential but your stakeholder did not ask for. Simplify the communication, focusing on outcomes or goals. Don’t overwhelm or overinform. Keep it simple.
Authoring a well structured, well authored status report goes a long way to keep them in the loop.
Low Power-High Interest: These stakeholders can be a key ally in advancing the project. While their power level maybe low, they often can be a great sounding board, offer advice and provide helpful suggestions to improve the outcomes that might otherwise be overlooked. Keep them informed and lean on them when you are looking for alternative ideas or feeling stuck.
Low Power-Low Interest: If you identify these stakeholders correctly, then you won’t run the risk of boring them with excessive communication, or spending a disproportionate amount of your time on them. You should be spending time with folks in the other categories above.
With this structured approach, you can prioritize better. Invest your time on the right stakeholders and the right activities, thereby maximizing your probability of success!