I recently shared an overview of my six principles of delivering change at pace  – in this post I focus on my fifth principle ‘establish strong sponsorship and key stakeholder engagement’.

For many decades, studies on change success report the same finding – that the people aspects of projects are the most common factors associated with project failure. It’s not rocket science.  And ultimately the perception of sponsors who fund a project and the key stakeholders with greatest power are the ones who determine a project’s fate.  Ignore them at your peril!

So, my first question – who are your stakeholders?

Here’s where the story of our humble pig named Poppy comes in.  Poppy lives at Goldenhill Farm in rural Herefordshire – she has been a county show winner on numerous occasions in her short 3yr life.  But what is Poppy the Pig to those that have a vested interest (or stake) in her?  Well first of all there is the farmer – he is rearing Poppy to take her to market and yield the best price for his investment.  Then there’s the farmer’s daughter, Florence – she named Poppy, feeds her lovingly every day and considers Poppy her pet.  There’s the local butcher – he’s had his eye on Poppy for some time (since she was a piglet in fact) as he knows what a prize pig she will be.  There’s also the Vet – his need is to ensure that Poppy is a healthy happy pig.  Finally, of course there is the village supermarket manager who works closely with the local butcher – she’s always keen to procure top quality pork at good prices from local sources.  So, the farmer has much to consider as he considers the differing needs of Poppy’s stakeholders.  Which are conflicting? How will he manage them?  Who is most important to him and what does he most want to achieve? … (for those of you concerned about the fate of Polly, his heart rules his head and he decides to keep Poppy as a pet for Florence!).

In a recent (2016) study, Where Change Management Fails, by Robert Half Management Resources concluded that most change efforts commonly fail in execution.  Over 65% of respondents agreed that ‘communicating clearly and frequently’ was the most important aspect when leading an organisation through change.  My experience has taught me that managing key stakeholders and sponsors effectively is where successful communication starts.  Yet I notice that stakeholder management is rarely conducted in a structured way during projects and how well it’s done usually depends on the appetite and talent of the leader. This perhaps explains why numerous projects end up with sponsor management at best but little if any stakeholder management – resulting in variable commitment to the project.

Having identified your key stakeholders, how can you take a structured approach to stakeholder management?

Here’s a few steps to get you started:

  • Identify the stakeholders for your project and map them on a grid of their level of influence vs their level of commitment to your project – this will help identify who you need to manage closely.  Involve your steering team or key sponsor(s) as their insight on key individuals will be invaluable
  • If your map has many stakeholders, circle those that are most critical or a priority to engage with
  • Identify where key relationships exist between your stakeholders – this will be helpful if you need to reach and influence someone whom you don’t know directly
  • Build an action plan to define who you most need to influence towards higher advocacy for your project and how you can try to achieve this; identify key actions, owners, and timelines
  • Review the stakeholder mapping and action plan regularly (at least monthly) with your team/steering team to follow-up on your actions

As John Lidgate (the 14th Century British monk and poet) said You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ –so who do you need to delight with your project?  Who has the biggest stake in its success?  And how will you proactively engage with them and manage their differing stakeholder needs?

I am curious to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to send me an email me at jacqui@changepaceconsulting.com. If you want to sign up for my future blogs please register here.

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Jacqui Alexander is an expert in business transformation with a proven track record of helping organisations align, deliver and improve their performance.  She uses an innovative and blended approach that combines the practices of organisation development, continuous improvement and project management to improve ways of working. 

Her approach is particularly impactful when shifts in mind-set, culture or ways of working are imperative for business success.  She runs London-based consultancy, ChangePace Consulting Ltd.