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14th April 2017

Stakeholder management for introverts

I'm an introvert. It's official: I have certificates from psychometric assessments saying so. The assessments didn't come as a surprise - people have always described me as quiet and thoughtful and occasionally criticised me for not being loud or pushy enough. (In return, I've often regarded these critics as too loud and too pushy, but, hey, as an introvert I've kept these views to myself).

Given that my job is helping clients with large change programmes, I have often wondered if I would have fared better had I not been saddled with introvert tendencies. After all, a key part of managing change, or indeed any programme or project, is managing your stakeholders - those who are providing the resources and have a major say in whether you are successful (or not). Personalities abound, opinions are strong and often emotions run high. How can an introvert possibly be successful in such a group?

For a long time I thought I'd been successful because I'd just been lucky. However, when a client recently asked me to write a method for stakeholder management I realised that my introvert tendencies were not a disadvantage and actually that my coping strategies amounted to a robust and effective approach.

The approach is based on the fundamental principle that to be successful, programme leaders need to align the goals of their programme with the goals of their stakeholders and ensure that alignment is maintained. I implement this principle over four stages:

Stage 1: Classify your stakeholders up-front, so you can use your energy effectively later

As an introvert you have a finite amount of energy you can expend on talking to people. Consequently you need to use this energy as efficiently as possible by getting as organised as possible up-front. I find the easiest way to do this is to start by building a stakeholder map based on the six broad stakeholder categories that surround a programme:
  • Investors - contribute funds and/or people
  • Benefit owners - accountable for realising a benefit or outcome
  • Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) - contribute direction and/or challenge
  • Suppliers - internal or external suppliers of services e.g. IT or advisory
  • Consumers - anyone affected by the programme and its outcome
  • Team members - core programme team.
The classification process helps me to:
  • Sketch out stakeholder goals and likely areas of common ground with the programme
  • Assess the potential impact of the programme or change in the stakeholder's area
  • Predict areas of potential issue and conflict (so I can go into meetings prepared)
Stage 2: Negotiate and "contract" in 1-to-1 meetings early in the programme

Introverts generally prefer 1-to-1 meetings to dealing with big groups. But that's OK. Early in a programme, 1-to-1 meetings are critical to establish stakeholder goals and check they are aligned with programme goals. These meetings enable you to:
  • Tailor discussions to the stakeholder's specific area of interest (including how the programme will impact their area of the organisation)
  • Listen to the stakeholder's goals, expectations, needs and preferences for future contact
  • Set out what stakeholder and programme will do for each other
  • Effectively agree a "contract" of engagement
  • Agree action plans if any goals are not aligned.
The "contract" is important as this structure provides the framework for future discussions, enabling easier and unemotional meetings. I like to produce it as a single-page document.

Stage 3: Build the contact plan

Having listened to the stakeholders' goals, needs and contact preferences the next step is to aggregate them into a consolidated calendar of events. Introverts should enjoy this process as it gives you a chance for some quiet reflection whilst at the same time developing a meticulous and robust schedule.

Drafting the engagement plan (steering groups, working groups, communication plans etc.) will also give you an opportunity to set out agendas, attendees and roles. Establishing these structures and processes with your stakeholders up-front will enable you to focus your energy and run the group sessions effectively later.

An additional benefit of the event plan is that stakeholder milestones become milestones in the overall programme plan. Consequently tracking stakeholder engagement progress becomes part of business as usual and not an additional exercise.

Stage 4: Execute the plan and spot exceptions by listening to the language

Once the programme and engagement events are underway, issues arise if stakeholder goals and programme goals become misaligned. This is generally hard to spot against the background noise of a programme. Indeed stakeholders themselves may not be aware that their goals and those of the programme are diverging.

I therefore recommend periodically comparing stakeholder sentiment (a subjective measure of how a stakeholder feels about the programme e.g. from strongly supportive to strongly antagonistic), goal alignment (a subjective measure e.g. from strongly aligned to strongly opposed) and the language the stakeholders use.

As an introvert I tend to spend a lot of time listening to stakeholders, and use the following table as a guide to diagnose what's really going on and what action I need to take:

Strong positive sentiment Commitment issues

Stakeholders continue to say positive things about the programme but spend their time and effort elsewhere. Language contains references to priorities and lack of resources.

Programme at risk, and needs to re-contract with the stakeholder or find a replacement.
Happy days

Stakeholder and programme goals are aligned and stakeholders feel good about the programme. Language should be positive, supportive and enthusiastic.

Low risk
Strong negative sentimentGame over

Stakeholders have lost confidence and no longer support the programme. Language will be critical, possibly threatening and direction will not be offered.

Unless the programme can successfully re-state its benefits case, it should be wound down.
Frustration

Stakeholders and programme agree on the goals, but stakeholders are less confident about the programme. Language will be critical and directive. Increased demand for status reports.

Programme at risk, and needs to actively demonstrate improved performance.
Negative goal alignmentPositive goal alignment





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