Over the past few years, I have written numerous posts looking at different aspects of stakeholder management. But what really matters and what is just useful to know?
Here are my top five things to know to achieve effective stakeholder management:
1. Know who really matters. Make sure that the majority of your limited resources are being used to communicate with the stakeholders who really matter. They might not always be the bosses, either. The most important stakeholders will almost certainly change from month to month, so you need to regularly re-assess who is a top influencer at any given time.
2. Know why those stakeholders matter and what they need or want. Mutuality is important. If you need something from the stakeholder, you need to be able to link your needs with their requirements. Trading is far more effective and realistic than relying on charity or altruism.
3. One size fits no one. If you want your communication to be effective and deliver the outcome you need, you must understand the stakeholder with whom you're communicating. If you want your communication to have its intended effect, you need to have the right information for the receiver, in the proper format and delivered through the channel he or she prefers.
4. Attitudes change constantly. People change their minds all of the time. What you knew about your stakeholder's attitude toward your project last month is probably out of date. To compensate for a shift in focus, constantly re-assess the important stakeholder's attitudes and adjust your communication plan to deal with the current situation.
5. Everyone is biased (including you). When managing stakeholders, rational objectivity is nearly impossible to achieve. You are using your perception of your stakeholder's perception of your project to plan and manage your stakeholder communication effort. But perceptions are not real -- they are simply a person's understanding of what they believe to be real, filtered through their innate and acquired biases.
To be successful, you need to be pragmatic, design the best communication plan you can with the resources available to you, and then see what happens.
Knowing these five basic concepts and adapting as the situation changes won't guarantee success, but it will at last give you a fighting chance. Your project will always be better off if you spend time thinking about the best way to manage your stakeholder's needs and expectations.