3 key lessons on stakeholder engagement

3 Key Lessons on Stakeholder Engagement

As part of the Stakeholder Engagement Series to celebrate the launch of our new eCourse which is now available on our website, I recently interviewed Naomi Caietti about the important topic of stakeholder engagement.

Naomi Caietti, PMP has recently launched her own consulting company to provide virtual services for clients that need a speaker, author, or coach. Naomi is a GLOBAL SPEAKER 27+ years of public and private information technology (IT) project leadership expertise on topics such as leadership, project management and women in project management. She is a guest blogger and sought-after expert on project management.

Online Naomi contributes her knowledge as an expert on the ProjectManagement.com community, is also noted as one of the TOP INFLUENTIAL project management professionals on twitter (PMOT), and is a TOP CONTRIBUTOR to #PMChat on twitter.

 

Naomi, what are the 3 lessons you’ve learnt with working with your best stakeholders and your most challenging stakeholders.

Stakeholders seem to be more elevated these days due to the fact that there still are a lot of project failures out there and specifically in the IT arena. There is more of a focus on stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management. I recently spoke on this in my webinar Projects are Easy, Change is Hard, and I shared quite a few tips. I have 10 Tips for Change Leadership for project managers to download on my website.

Lesson 1

Identify on the kind of change you’re bringing about and select the right approach to support this change.

Lesson 2

Get staff engaged in building the case for change and setting the vision.

You need to start getting the message out there about your project and start talking with the various user groups. This means varying the kind of communication that you’re delivering.  A well thought out communication plan is important tool in this process.

Some suggested approaches are:

  • Town Hall meetings – with your users and stakeholders
  • Conference call sessions
  • Email communication
  • Build a website so that you can distribute a lot of the communication via the website

Lesson 3

Get started early. For any change, there is going to be resistance and the earlier you get out there the better you’re able to minimise this. If you don’t minimise this the resistance you’re going to have unhappy stakeholders and that can put a black cloud over your project.  All kinds of things happen projects that may require you to spend extra time and energy trying to resolve whereas if you had planned and engaged early, you could have minimised any resistance, ensuring your project keeps moving forward and your stakeholders are going to be happy.

 

Recently I read a blog post that sometimes project managers just do one interaction and then it’s, ‘oh well, I’ve engaged that stakeholder. In fact, multiple touch points are required to bring about change. What are your thoughts on this?

That’s absolutely true. The reason being is that your stakeholders can be executives, that are sponsors for a variety of projects. At their level, they are dealing with a variety of different issues and a lot of it being politics within the organisation.

They are going to only get soundbites of your message and only then going to listen to soundbites that mean something to them. That is why you must keep delivering a consistent message, keep focussed on your engagement and building those relationships.

The key thing to figure out is, what their motivation is and what is important to them about the project. That is when they will be more engaged with the project and help you sell the project for and with you.

 

Naomi, what are the key behaviours and leadership traits required for project managers to be successful at stakeholder engagement?

The reason I wanted to bring up this question is there was a study done by PMI who partnered with a behavioural company and a university to develop a report about behaviours. I was a contributor to the study.

The report collated key behaviours from a project and programme perspective. In this report, they identified 5 behaviours. This list really hones in on stakeholder engagement and that’s what project and programme portfolio managers need to be cognisant of.

Strategic thinking – your stakeholders with are focussed on the strategy of their portfolios.

  1. Organisational Awareness – as you get involved with very complex and some very political projects you need to focus on what value, innovation and return on investment is going to be.
  2. Leading Change – This is going to be at the forefront of what you are involved in and you need to focus on the impact to not only your team but your stakeholders, internal customers and external customers.
  3. Judgement – pulling together the right information, making judgements about information, inputs and the outputs and what kind of data that you’re sharing. This information will be the basis of your discussions decisions and recommendations.
  4. Driving results. You are going to be focussed on driving those results and outcomes that add value.

 

They’re great, they’re just what is needed for people to understand that it is not all about the process it’s about becoming a trusted business partner.

Yes, absolutely.

Especially when embedding significant change into organisations. We are not about just delivering the technology, even the most technical project impact someone and there is always some degree of change.

These behaviours are derived from emotional intelligence and leadership. These are core skills that you need, not necessarily the technical hard skills as a project manager might be focussing on.

 

It’s going to be interesting to see how as a profession project managers adapt to what our customers really want from us.

Yes, and I think it’s a challenge for project managers to continue to sit on the fence. You should balance expectations, meeting expectations from your stakeholders, your team, your sponsors and the politics. I always say that projects are all about people, politics and processes.

 

I agree and when you’ve got vendors in the mix as well, an external party who has slightly different drivers to the organisation, it’s interesting to see how the dynamics and politics of the projects changes.  Naomi, what are the key benefits project managers can achieve by having meaningful relationships with their stakeholders?

For new Project Managers, everything is new, they are really focussed on the process and those hard technical skills. They need to look up and across their organisation to start recognising the value of building relationships.

All Project Managers should focus on building relationships that are going to assist you to complete your current project and land your next project. A goal should be to have your stakeholders want you to work on their projects  ‘hey, I want Mary/Bob to lead this next project, I really liked them, we had a really good working relationship, I liked their approach, their communication and leadership style’.

The other benefit is that you’re building a network of influence based on trust. The things that you’ve done on your projects to build trust helps establish a network of influence for you to draw on for your next project.  You may have team members that you’ve already worked with, you may be assigned a sponsor that you’ve already worked with and you may have stakeholders that you’ve built some relationships with and that is huge help when working on complex projects.

The network that you’re building on your projects with your team, your sponsors and your stakeholders is going to be huge for you as a project manager. It is going to help build your influence, your role as a project manager and perhaps move into other roles such as Programme Manager or PMO manager. What is your stepping stone to your next career promotion?

 

Naomi, what can you do if you haven’t built great relationships on your project?

I think that if you haven’t built good relationships you should go back and take an introspective look at yourself, your leadership style, approaches, communication style and maybe the kind of projects that you are being assigned to.  Maybe these projects aren’t where you shine, maybe you’re not meant to lead a finance project maybe you’re better working on IT projects, or business programmes or marketing projects.

It is important to find your niche. I had the opportunity to be able to put myself in a variety of areas to work on; finance, IT, business programmes, PMO, launches. I really like being able to decide, ‘well am I really good at this? I want to stay in this area? Or do I like having the variety and that way because of what I bring to the table I can really offer a lot of value in a variety of areas?’

Ask yourself; where am I adding value? Work with your functional manager to identify your strengths. Perhaps you need some training in core skills or project management training.

 

All very sound advice there Naomi.  Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you, Elise it’s been great to talk about stakeholder engagement. I think that Project Managers should spend as much time as possible focussing on building their stakeholder partnerships. It will really pay off.

 

This podcast is part of our Stakeholder Management Series to celebrate the launch of our eCourse which is now available on our website. Tune in each week for the next instalment. If you are already subscribed to our mailing list, we’ll email you a simple recap of posts each Thursday so that you can listen at your own pace. Join our mailing list for updates. Feel free to leave your comments below with any questions that you may have. Join the conversation!

 

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