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Building strong stakeholders relationships

The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) defines stakeholders as “a group or individual with a relationship to the change, the need or the solution”.  Understanding how to manage stakeholders effectively is essential to the success of all projects.

Whether you are leading a project, facilitating a requirements workshop or responsible for implementing a change, you will be working with a core set of stakeholders to get to a positive outcome.  At some point you may come across stakeholders who seem to create obstacles rather than assisting with solutions, stakeholders who seem to know it all and refuse to listen to new ideas, or stakeholders who miss deadlines and who, at the last-minute, excuse themselves from critical meetings.  These counter-productive behaviours can be frustrating and tough to manage. 

Although addressing these issues may not be easy, failure to effectively manage these stakeholder behaviors can lead to unproductive sessions and poor project outcomes.  Developing a deep understanding of your project stakeholders, including their challenges and ambitions, can help to achieve increased support, eliminate delays, and ensures the project can continue moving forward.

To win over stakeholders who are displaying counter-productive behaviours, it is important to:

Understand stakeholder power and interest

To gain stakeholder buy-in and commitment, it is important to understand their power over and interest in the project.  For this purpose, the Power-Interest Grid is a popular tool to categorise your project stakeholders.  Place each of your stakeholders in the applicable quadrant to understand who needs to be managed closely and who only needs to be kept informed. Taking the time to understand the varying levels of power and interest will help to identify the best way to communicate to and manage each stakeholder in the most effective way.

Clearly state expectations, roles, and responsibilities

Often confusion and frustration can arise when expectations, roles, and responsibilities have not been clearly stated and agreed.  It is crucial, therefore, to provide stakeholders with a clear understanding of the project expectations and their involvement upfront.  Communicating this during project kick-off is a great way to garner stakeholder buy-in.  It is also an opportunity for your stakeholders to raise any concerns around their availability and to find ways to work around it.

Determine root cause for their behaviour

Try to determine the root cause of their behaviour.  Why are they being overly critical? Are they simply fearful of change or are there other drivers that may be less obvious at first?  Understanding stakeholder concerns, struggles, and motivations can be helpful to determine the root cause of their behaviour.  Once this is understood, take the time to discuss the issue with the stakeholder and then work together to find the best way to deal with their concerns.

Remain objective

Remember to remain objective when addressing any counter-productive behaviour.  Steer clear of taking anything personally and rather keep the project objectives as your focus.  People’s behaviours could be influenced by their personal situations, company politics, stress, fatigue, previous experiences and so much more.  Take the time to gain an understanding of the underlying reason for the lack of cooperation before plotting your plan of action.

Involve them in the way forward

Is stakeholder interest dwindling?  Ensuring stakeholders feel empowered on the way forward can help mitigate any negative behaviours from impacting project progress. To do this, include your stakeholders in the design and selection of project options and solutions to cement their trust, support, and commitment to the project.  Just be sure to sanity check these against the project goals and objectives to ensure that personal agendas do not cloud what needs to be achieved.

Meet them one-on-one

Schedule time to meet with all stakeholders individually.  Sometimes meeting one-on-one can make stakeholders more comfortable to voice their opinions and concerns than in a group setting.  This approach can also lead to clearer and calmer conversations.  Stakeholders want to feel that their opinions are valued and understood.  Scheduling this personal time with them can help to explore their viewpoint in order to cocreate positive outcomes.  

Ensuring your stakeholders feel understood and valued will help to grow support and trust.  Being aware of the types of counter-productive behaviours that stakeholders can exhibit and, using the above techniques to win them over, will ensure a smooth and successful project.  Just remember that building relationships take time and effort, so be prepared to put in the work to create an environment where everyone is fully committed to the project objectives and goals.

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