The secret to stakeholder management

secret to stakeholder managementIt’s one of the hardest things to manage.

And it can be the difference between success and failure on a project.

Whether you’re dealing with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), steering committees, exec boards, investors or clients, they all have the ability to throw you a curve ball when you least expect it. Or be unavailable when you really need them. Or think they know more about elearning and instructional design than you do.

That’s why you have to get really good at stakeholder management…

This is something I have learned a lot about since starting my business 8 years ago and I continue to learn every single time I interact with my clients. As a contractor I always had someone to turn to for help with this, but as a business owner the buck stops with me and boy, that has been one interesting journey!

Because the fact is – wait for it {drum roll} – stakeholders are all human beings!

Yes, I know at times they might seem like they are talking a completely different language and are from another planet, but the reality is that they are people just like us. And as ordinary people just doing their jobs, there are many things that influence their interactions with us on projects.

I could easily sit here and write about this topic for the next 37 hours, but as we’ve all got other things to do today, I’d just like to share with you the most important thing I have learned about stakeholder management.

This is the key to us having loyal and happy clients and projects that have actually been fun to work on, rather than a major source of stress in our lives.

And the best thing about this tip is that you can start applying it on your projects, with your stakeholders today.

Are you ready?

They’re just not that into you.

That’s it.

Plain and simple.

I know it’s hard to swallow, but it’s true.

As amazing as you are at your job and what you believe you can achieve on this project.

And trust me, I definitely appreciate you – I am you!

When we have work to complete and people need to have input to that work in any way, it can be very frustrating when they don’t come up with the goods. But what you need to understand is that their failure to do so has absolutely nothing to do with you!

Yes, it affects you, but it is not about you.


And here’s three reasons why…

  1. You are not their priority. Stakeholders of any kind are usually involved with your project in addition to doing their own full-time job, which can be more than full-time already in a lot of cases. That is their priority, not your deliverable or your project.
  2. They get scared. This project may have been instigated by them and they may be championing it. But as it gets nearer to go live or as things get bumpy, it’s their neck on the line and sometimes they are just plain frightened that it might not work and what that means for them. And that’s okay, it’s a natural human reaction.
  3. There are things going on in their world that you have no idea about. Whether that be to do with their company, department, team, job, family, friends, health, goldfish – the list is endless. We have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day – very few of them will be about your deliverable!

So what can you do to get what you need when you need it, without taking a caveman club into every meeting or using bold capital letters in emails?!

  • Set expectations early. Have a clear plan for what you need by when and what input is required from them. For example, some of our clients had no idea how long it would take to review storyboards, so we introduced a storyboard review procedure with suggested timeframes for each set. That way they had a process to follow and could allocate the appropriate time to the review.
  • Communicate regularly. Set a time each week for a project catch-up, even when there’s not much to cover. This enables non-urgent topics to be discussed and agreed upon rather than having drawn out email threads which take up more time. It is also a focused time where people can physically be there or online at least giving their full attention to the project for that duration. After the initial lumps and bumps are ironed out of the project, these catch-ups can usually take 10-15 minutes. Everyone is informed, has had a chance to speak and who isn’t happy with a quick and efficient meeting that’s over in 10 minutes?!
  • Be mindful. There could be a million things going on in their brain that are stressful, scary and out of their control and they don’t want to share any of that with you because it’s not your business. Those things make it hard to focus and apply oneself and that will naturally affect their work. I’m sure we all have days like that, so just think outside your needs every now and again and work with that person to support them getting you what you need.

What have been your biggest stakeholder management challenges and what advice would you give to others?

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