When you are trying to build an engaged relationship with stakeholders it can be a difficult challenge, especially if you are new in a large business or if you haven’t operated on the leadership level before.
If you are working in a corporation, you will soon realize that without the buy-in from multiple stakeholders, you are unable to deliver any project that you set up yourself to achieve. Fortunately, engaging stakeholders is part of the art of communication and as with every skill – it can be learned!
Why engaging stakeholders is important?
Stakeholders hold the power to make or break your projects and achieve your goals. It is especially apparent in large corporations, where the decisions are made by multiple stakeholders, who quite often work in separate departments.
Understanding your stakeholder’s priorities and challenges can help you introduce them to your idea, and hit the pain points they are experiencing. With stakeholders who share your desire to drive the project that you are leading, it is way easier to accomplish your goals.
Why stakeholders do not engage?
Do you know the situation when you have emailed someone at work multiple times and they haven’t replied? Or when you have repeatedly asked for a simple piece of information, but they seem not to be keen on sharing this? In the past, I would have thought that they were doing it on purpose, to show their power or that they don’t like me and wanted to make my life harder.
This may be true in some instances, but people generally don’t have time or energy to be difficult on purpose.
I have gathered below the most common reasons why stakeholders do not engage:
- lack of trust – it is possible, that you haven’t build your relationship with them yet and they might feel unsure of your intentions. Sharing a small, yet critical piece of information might give you more power than they would like in this moment of your collaboration.
How to overcome that?
You should spend more time trying to understand your stakeholder’s needs and share small, but impactful suggestions that can help them in their role.
- lack of time – from what I have experienced in my 10 years of professional work, I have very rarely seen people who have spare time on the job. Usually our to do lists and project lists are never ending and we need to prioritise to make sure we get the important things done
- prioritising other tasks – these two reasons go hand in hand. If your stakehodler doesn’t understand the importance of your project and the impact it can have on their work, they are unlikely to prioritise it and share the infomration you need in a timely manner.
How to overcome that?
Make sure you are highlighting the benefits of the project to the stakeholder. To be able to do that effectively, you need to make sure you have done your pre-work – understanding their priorities and challenges, to be able to address them appropriately.
- not understanding your role in the business – if your stakeholder doesn’t understand your place in the business, they may not understand if you are allowed to know certain things about their department. There might be some information which are on ‘need ot know basis’ and they might be just unsure if you do need to know.
How to overcome that?
The solution is twofold. You can build their understanding of your role by sharing the projects you have delivered for others, but also by having your boss/mentor/sponsor support you and promote your role and abilities to the stakeholder.
If you are struggling to take stakeholders on board, a brief email from your boss or a mention during the meeting can raise your status. Do not hesitate to ask your boss to talk you up. It’s their job to make sure you succeed in your role.
- not understanding what you are trying to achieve – very often in business presentations we want to sound smarter so we use big words and complicated graphs. Yet this is not helpful for the others who are trying to understand the concept. The leaders who need to make the big decisions in business want to have a good understanding how projects will affect their operation.
How to overcome that?
Make sure you oversimplify your presentations. I like to do what I call ‘Mum’s test’ (my Mum is a very smart woman, but she knows very little about my job) – would my Mum understand this project if I described it to her? This helps me to keep my presentations simple and easy to understand, gaining a quick buying from the stakeholder, who doesn’t need to mull over the concepts I am introducing.
The story of Steve
I have used this example recently with one of my colleagues and I have soon realized how great it illustrates our relationships at work.
Imagine you are sitting in your house, doing your chores and you hear a doorbell. It’s your new neighbor, let’s call him Steve. Steve introduced himself as an extraordinary house designer and he is happy to offer his services to you for free. All you need to do is to give him your time and money, and he will decorate your house for you and he will do a great job!
I am sure you already think that Steve is a whack job and you are considering moving to a different postcode… Yet, this is exactly what we do at work!
My name is Steve, I just joined the purchasing department.
I have previously worked for some amazing companies like X, Y and Z and I am thrilled to be a part of the team in our ABC company.
I would love to schedule a 121 with you and share the purchasing process that we can implement to your next contract.
Have you ever received an email like this? Or maybe you are guilty of sending one by yourself?
Imagine now a different scenario.
Your friend, Carol, comes to your house with her friend Steve. She says that Steve is an amazing designer. You trust Carol, so you welcome Steve warmer than the first time, but then he offers to decorate your house again…
Imagine the third scenario – you met Steve and from the beginning, he is interested in you, in your opinions, challenges, likes, and dislikes. He mentions that he is a designer and suggests you some great options, that could improve the challenges you’ve been having with your house. You try these and are very impressed with Steve’s experience and next time he suggests a bigger change, you are more open to listening to him.
When we are pitching projects at work we are very often coming from the place of making things done without considering how this looks like from the other person’s perspective. In the end, we got hired to do a specific job. However, very often, before this job gets done, we are required to build the relationships that will carry the projects forward.
Are you still struggling with engaging your stakeholders?
I hope this article has been useful to you and that you have learned some ideas on how to progress your relationships at work. If you are still struggling, or just would like to know more, let me know in the comments what would you like me to expand on.
In the meantime make sure you download my Stakeholder Questionnaire to get you started understanding your stakeholder’s needs.