No company-wide change can happen without the buy-in of the right stakeholders – it’s the only way decisions get made. However, once you have committed to the decision to make a change, you can’t forget about them. Stakeholder engagement is critical to keeping a project moving and to make it a success.
All too often we take the time to identify the project that is needed – whether to satisfy new goals and objectives or to solve an existing problem. We assign someone or a team to research and identify the best solution. We build a change management plan (you can learn more with our Payroll & HCM Change Management: A Step-by-step Guide) and bring stakeholders in to get their insight. And when the solution has been found, everyone celebrates – giddy with the anticipation of how much better things will be. Then the team goes off to get started on the hard work of executing on the project.
[insert sound of brakes squealing]…. But wait! What about keeping your stakeholders engaged?
Why continued engagement matters
Your stakeholders are the connections between departments, projects, resources, and the industry. And as you know, nothing goes exactly to plan. No plan is perfect. You will learn things along the way; whether they are opportunities or roadblocks, your stakeholders will have insight that can keep your project moving.
Additionally, when taking on change management, not all stakeholders will be committed to its success. Engagement is an exercise that provides the opportunity for stakeholders who may be initially resistant to the project or change to become champions of the work, thereby significantly increasing the odds of project success.
Engagement takes a plan. Yes, you’re going to need to have a plan around how to communicate with your stakeholders throughout the life of the project. This plan doesn’t need to be complicated. Decide the level of engagement you need from each of your key stakeholders to ensure access to subject matter expertise and executive support to keep the project moving.
When you brought them to the research and decision-making process, you identified the needs, interest-level, expertise, and potential impact each stakeholder could have on the project. How the project manager maintains engagement with each of these stakeholders will depend on the stage, status, and current activities. Their level of engagement will ebb and flow throughout the lifecycle of the project and at times differ for each type of stakeholder.
Categorize your stakeholders at the beginning of the project as Supporters, Fence-sitters, Active Dissenters, or Passive Dissenters. Then tailor your means of communications, cadence, and type of information you provide and solicit for each. It’s important to remember that your communications with your Fence-sitters, Active Dissenters, and Passive Dissenters will differ than your Supporters category. And a part of your objective should be to move them into your Supporters category during the course of the project.
The key is effective communication about the project throughout the life of the project. Build a communication plan to share project related information (strategy, tactics, and outcomes) in a proactive, timely, and consistent manner. You will need to decide if periodic meetings, written updates, or one-on-one conversations are the best way to keep specific stakeholders up-to-date.
Remember that a part of this communication is to also solicit feedback and input. You will find their input provides important information that can help project leads make adjustments and solve challenges before they become problems.
This engagement and communication plan is not static – adjust it as your stakeholders provide feedback and participate in the process. You will find that how you communicate with and solicit feedback from a Passive Dissenter will change as they move to be Fence-sitters and Supporters. And that’s a good thing.
The organization took on this project to meet new goals and objectives or solve problems. Your stakeholders are not only the people who provide insight into how to execute the project; they are also the people most affected by the project. Getting them involved in the planning phase was step one. Keeping them involved during the project’s execution secures feedback and buy-in for the resulting new system, process, or program.