What Is Stakeholder Management?
Planning Your Stakeholder Communications
Stakeholder management is the process of maintaining good relationships with the people who have most impact on your work. Communicating with each one in the right way can play a vital part in keeping them "on board."
This article is about how to communicate effectively with stakeholders. But first you need to know who those people are!
So, we recommend that you begin by reading our article, Stakeholder Analysis. It explains how to identify key stakeholders, and how to assess their power, influence and interest. When you've done so, read on.
Developing Your Stakeholder Management Strategy
It pays to remember the old saying, "No man is an island." Why? Because almost every project you work on involves other people. And, chances are, you'll depend on some of them for crucial support, investment and resources.
The way that you manage your stakeholders depends on:
- The size and complexity of your project. You could assess this by comparing it to past projects, by examining the project's milestones, by the amount of resources required, or by the time allocated to it, for example.
- The amount of help you need to achieve the results you want. This could include sponsorship, advice and expert input, physical resources, reviews of material to increase quality, and so on.
- The time you have available to communicate. You need to consider how to manage the time you expect to spend on communication, particularly if your project requires a lot of stakeholder input. It is often better to allocate more time to communicating with stakeholders, rather than trying to "get by" without all the help or input that you need.
You can start to devise a plan for communicating with your stakeholders once you've mapped them on a Power/Interest Grid, such as our interactive example.
Remember, the aim of your communication with stakeholders is to win and maintain their support for your project. Use the following five steps to do so:
1. Summarize Each Stakeholder's Status
Download our Stakeholder Communications worksheet, and fill in the Stakeholder Name column using the names of the key stakeholders that you identified on your Power/Interest Grid.
In the Key Interests and Issues column, add each stakeholder's level of influence and area of interest in your task or project. Then, in the Current Status column, add your assessment of where they stand in respect to it: "Advocate," "Supporter," "Neutral," "Critic," or "Blocker."
2. Decide What You Want From Each Stakeholder
Look at your list of stakeholders and think about the level of support that you want from each one: is it High, Medium or Low? Enter this value in the Desired Support column on your worksheet.
And, what role would you like each one to play in your project (if any)? Will you need full-time technical support, for instance, or just "ad hoc" advice? Note this down in the Desired Project Roles column.
Try to be as detailed as possible about what you want from your stakeholders. If there are specific actions that you need them to take to move the project forward, write them in the Actions Desired column of your worksheet. And make sure that you can explain why these actions are so important!
3. Identify Your Key Message to Each Stakeholder
Next, think about what you need to say to persuade your stakeholders to support you and to engage with your project.
What's in it for them? Highlight the benefits that your project will bring to the organization or the individuals concerned, and focus on key performance drivers, such as increasing profitability or delivering real improvements.
Write down your key messages in the Messages Needed column of your worksheet.
Our article, The Persuasion Tools Model, is useful for identifying the most effective messages, by taking your stakeholders' needs and preferences into account.
4. Identify Your Stakeholder Communication Approach
How will you manage the communication to, and the input from, your stakeholders?
In the column, Communications Approach, write down the strategy that is best suited to each stakeholder. The options are "Manage closely," "Keep satisfied," "Keep informed," or "Monitor."
Focus on the most important stakeholders first, and the less crucial ones later (refer back to your Power/Interest Grid, if you need to). Devise a plan that communicates with them as simply and efficiently as possible, with just the right amount of appropriate information.
Consider how often each stakeholder will want to receive updates, and in what form. Would they prefer email or face-to-face meetings, or visual updates such as Gantt charts, for example. Remember, your goal is to keep your stakeholders engaged and supportive, so take care not to overload them or to waste their time!
Also, think about how you can win over or neutralize the opposition of skeptics. Where you need their active support, think about how to raise their level of interest. For example, could you show them a prototype of your new product or service, or persuade another influential stakeholder to present the project to them?
Write down your plans in the Action and Communication column of your worksheet.
5. Implement Your Stakeholder Management Plan
Once you have prepared your plan, you can start to implement it!
Aim to make Stakeholder Management an integral part of your project, rather than treating it as a side task. As with all plans, it will be easier to implement if you break it down into a series of small, achievable steps which you action one by one.
And remember, projects are often subject to change as they go along. This means that your stakeholders' needs may change, too. So, review your plan regularly to make sure that you continue to communicate with the most influential stakeholders, in the most effective way, for the duration of your project.
Consider the impact that your project will have on your stakeholders, and manage their expectations by letting them know as soon as possible of any difficulties that arise. This can help to mitigate the impact of these issues, and it can preserve your reputation for reliability.
Stakeholder management is critical to the success of your projects.
Once you've identified your stakeholders using Stakeholder Analysis, follow these six steps to keep them on board:
- Enter the Power/Interest Grid data from your Stakeholder Analysis.
- Establish what you want from each stakeholder.
- Identify the messages that you need to convey.
- Identify the necessary actions and communications.
- Implement your plan.
Projects can change over time, so be sure to review your plan regularly.
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