Why is it important to choose the right stakeholders to communicate with?

Have you ever worked on a project that you had a well-planned deadline for, however as time went by, you had to push it further and further? Maybe someone wasn’t replying to your emails, maybe you couldn’t get access to the software you needed to complete it, maybe your meetings were pushed to later dates and the whole process slowed down?

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If the answer is yes, you must have felt overwhelmed, maybe a little bit angry, and probably a hell of a lot confused. Why do they don’t want to talk? Why do they don’t reply? Don’t they know it is important? Or is it not their job to provide this information?

You probably tried chasing them, but that only caused more silence… Maybe you got involved someone higher up, and maybe eventually you got the information you were asking for, but it is most likely it was not formatted to be easy to read and now you have a lot of resentment from the said team.

Finally, the project has ended, taking you twice as long as it should. But the new project started and the situation continues again. So you wonder how to avoid it and how to get people to work with you and provide the information you need?

People are not mean

Well, at least most of them. Very often when we’re at work we change our social behaviors. Imagine, if you were at a party, meeting new people. Would you start by asking them for their phone numbers or house addresses as soon as you learn their names? Probably not.

Think about it now in the context of work. The data you are requesting is harder to obtain than someone’s phone number, as they are more likely to have it memorized. If you are asking someone at work to do something for you, they would need to put work that they have prioritized on a side and provide the information for you. Even if this is as quick as finding a file or downloading a set of data from the system, it still means prioritizing your task over the others.

So if your request lands in someone’s email, especially when they are busy and they have no understanding of how does this helps the business, it is very likely your request goes to the back of the queue. Not because they are mean. But because they need to prioritize their work.

People may not have access to the information you require

This is a quite recent experience from my work – I have been requesting a download of data from a specific system, that I do not have the access to. After months of chasing, I have realized that the person I was discussing it with didn’t have access to the system in question.

They used to, but not anymore.

Things in the companies change, sometimes very fast. So staying updated with other people’s responsibilities can help to understand how can they help you – or when they cannot and you need to find another solution.

Think about something that you are chasing right now – is the person who is not replying really the right person to ask for this information? Maybe even if they have access, they are not highly skilled in it? Maybe there is someone else you could ask? Have a think and chat to them about it. There might be something preventing them from helping you.

People may not have the power to decide on what you are asking them

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You have probably noticed that, especially in large corporations, every decision made, needs to be approved by a collective of people on different levels and often from various departments.

If you have asked someone to provide an approval or make a decision on a certain topic, they might need time, not only to seek the approvals from other people who need to be involved, but they may need to delay it further to actually realize who is responsible to be making this decision.

This is especially important if you are trying to bring in something new to the company. If the company doesn’t have a specific pattern of steps for this particular type of project, leaving finding out the responsible people to someone you *think* is or should be responsible for what you are trying to achieve might actually delay the whole process further.

So why is it important to choose the right stakeholders to communicate with?

Having the right people identified from the start, and updating the list regularly can help you with:

Time management and preventing delays

If you have identified the right people from the start, this will help you manage your project timeline way better. If you are approaching the right person from the start, the delays are easier to avoid.

The right communications go to the right people

Communicating is a huge part of what we do, yet often this gets diluted. Do you receive these mass-corporate emails? How many of them have you read before you realised that most of the information is not interesting or not relevant to you?

You might miss out on sending the communication to the wrong person, who will not only disregard the message, but they probably will not think about forwarding it to the right person. So make sure you get it right from the beginning.

Easier to move tasks and decisions forward

If you identify the decision-makers and people who have the information you required from the beginning, it will not only be quicker for you to move the project forward but also easier.

Identifying the stakeholders and getting to know them before the project starts, will help you understand them and their capabilities within the company. I can bet, that you might also discover that a manager who potentially had a low impact on your project, might direct you towards the right people and introduce you if you put the time in to get to know them.

Helps with understanding the challenges they may have

Your project is going to affect your stakeholders – that’s why they are your stakeholders (if you need more clarification, check out this article) – and if you understand their goals and challenges, your project will be more successful from the start.

Making sure that you speak to the right people, helps you identify the right challenges and exhaust the list of obstacles you or they may encounter.

To sum up – Why is it important to choose the right stakeholders to communicate with?

Choosing the right people to communicate with will help you:

  • preventing delays
  • better time management
  • communicating with people in charge
  • requesting information from the right people
  • understanding better the challenges

at the end resulting in delivering a successful project on time.

Let me know below, if you have found this article useful.

Who are ‘stakeholders’ and why should we care about them?

Have you heard the word ‘stakeholder’ thrown around but you are unsure who the magic ‘stakeholder’ actually is? Maybe in your previous company, someone referred to shareholders as ‘stakeholders’ but then once you entered the new business, ‘stakeholders’ became your colleagues from another department? Are you confused by what it actually means and why different businesses can refer to different types of stakeholders? Or maybe you’re not even sure why you should even care about who your stakeholder is? Don’t worry, in this article, we will cover all these bases.

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Before we start

Did you know that you can support me on Patreon to help me create other valuable content? Each new supporter can choose their own topic and I will write an article especially for them. Fun, huh? Additionally, you can ask me questions whenever you need to.

So if you can, head over to Patreon and support me from as little as £5 per month. Everyone’s support counts massively as it helps me spend more time on creating the content for you.

Want a freebie before supporting? Check out my Stakeholder Questionnaire – 33 prompts to help you better understand your stakeholders.

Thank you and if you decided to support me today – I will be soon sending you a message to welcome you into our community.

Who are stakeholders in a business?

Following Investopedia:

A stakeholder is a party that has an interest in a company and can either affect or be affected by the business. The primary stakeholders in a typical corporation are its investors, employees, customers, and suppliers.

Investopedia, 2021

Most sources divide stakeholders into internal – the ones inside your company, such as other employees, and external such as customers and suppliers.

Let’s use an example. If you are a Project Manager supporting a launch of Product X, you might have a range of stakeholders, whose opinions you need to take into consideration.

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INTERNAL:

Your internal stakeholders will vary depending on the product and the situation, but it is quite likely that these will be:

  • your boss – afterall, they are interested in your performance
  • internal product team – the people who designed it
  • marketing team – as you work with themon the launch, they will be very invested in the process
  • sales team – you might need to understand how they are going to sell the product
  • operations – you might need to work with them on when the product will be available
  • other teams, like HR or IT, depending on the project and the product

The internal stakeholder can be pretty much anyone employed by your company. The important part is to establish who are the actual stakeholders for these particular products and identify specific people to help you move the project forward.

For example, your internal marketing team might have a marketing director, a couple of managers, and a team of specialists. If the project you are working on is a standard launch, it is very likely it will be handled by the manager and one or two specialists. Make sure you understand who is the main person there – is one of the managers taking the ownership of the project, or is it one of the specialists? Or maybe it is a more challenging project and it is handled by the director? Speak to the team and ask them questions – you can use Stakeholder Questionnaire – 33 prompts to help you better understand your stakeholders – this will help you understand who is your number one stakeholder in this group to deal with.

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EXTERNAL:

Your external stakeholders might be a bit harder to navigate and question. They are not employed by your company and can consist off:

  • customers – the people who are potential buyers for the product you are launching
  • shareholders – the people who have invested in the company and are looking to make some money from the launch
  • suppliers – you might need to develop some understanding when can they provide any missing components or what’s heir capacity during the launch
  • and others – such as government bodies or society as a whole

How to categorise stakeholders?

Stakeholders are a tricky bunch. As you could see from the internal example, identifying the marketing team as stakeholders is not enough. We are interested in who the individual is and how much power do they actually hold.

If you are interested to learn more about stakeholders – drop your email below. We will be covering this topic in a couple of weeks and you will be able to access the stakeholder mapping tool to help you track your stakeholders.

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The most important aspects of your stakeholders are the level of influence and level of interest they have in your project.


Level of influence

When deciding who is an important stakeholder for you and your project, it is worth considering their level of influence. This means, how much actual power to make decisions the person does have?

People with high influence are usually directors or managers responsible for the project, but can also be other people, if they were given a specific responsibility for the project.

Level of interest

The second most important thing to consider when categorising your stakeholders is their level of interest.

You might have a director who has a high level of influence, but they might not be interested at all in your project. You might still consider them as your stakeholders but you want to focus most on people who have both high level of influence and high level of interest.

You can find more information here about stakeholder analysis.

Why should we care about the stakeholders?

So why are stakeholders important? As mentioned in previous paragraph, some of them might have high levels of influence over your project and make or brake it, or they might have high level of interest and might have important insights into what you are trying to achieve.

A well managed stakeholder communications can affect the success of the project. I have seen situations where the poorly managed stakeholder relationship was prolonging a project to last over a year, whereas it could have been implemented much smoother.

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We often forget that our work and life are interconnected. The people you are engaging with they all have their own goals and objectives, make decisions, have lives which may be affected by the project or the company, etc. Yet very often we enagege with others as our work was a completely separate topic and had different rules to be successful. It is not. Next time you are approaching someone at work, have a think how would you approach them if you were at a friend’s party? Would you approach them straight on, tell them you credentials and ask for help? No, you would engage in a conversation to get to know them and build it from here.

You might have been in a situation before where you needed information from another co-worker. Maybe you even setup a meeting to build the relationship and discuss what you need. But weeks went by and you haven’t received the required information. You followed up with an email only to hear crickets. Sounds familiar? (this article talks in more detail about this, and how to get more traction with stakeholders). This is how most projects get delayed. If your stakeholder doesn’t see your request as of high importance to them, they will very often prioritise other request or their own projects.

Think about it, if someone drops you a message asking you to do something or provide a piece of information, which would take you 15 minutes or longer, are you likely to jump on it straight away? Probably not. You would check your own task list, prioritise and then get to work based on your priorities, not the priorities of others.

So why do we need to care about stakeholders? We need to care about them as we need them to succeed with our projects and with our roles. Communication is a highly sought after skill as surprisingly small amount of people can actually communicate effectively within work environment. The higher you are planning to move on the corporate ladder, the more likely you will be required to manage stakeholders and be proficient in communication skills.

Who are ‘stakeholders’ and why should we care about them?

I hope you have now a better understanding of who stakeholders are and why do we need them on our side to be successful not only with the projects but also with our careers.

If you are not sure where to start with engaging your stakeholders, make sure you download Stakeholder Questionnaire – 33 prompts to help you better understand your stakeholders.

I hope this have helped you to understand better who are stakeholders and how important it is to manage the relationships with them. If you have any more stakeholder-related questions, drop them below, I would love to hear from you.

3 secrets to pitching a project idea at work

Have you come up with a great idea to improve your company, but you are struggling to find traction with your boss and stakeholders? Is it hard for you to convince others that your idea is worth pursuing? Pitching a project at work is actually not that hard if you follow simple steps.

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Things to remember

Before we get into the details of preparing your pitch, I just wanted to highlight a few things for you to keep in mind throughout the process.

It is going to take time

All ideas, no matter how great take time to implement. Your boss and stakeholders might have various objections that you will have to overcome as you go. You should also remember that unless your project idea is high on their list of priorities, it will take longer for them to respond or make decisions. So prepare for a long game.

They will say no

In most cases, your stakeholders will say no initially to your project or will try to pick holes, or at least it will feel like this. The reason they are doing this is to identify potential risks and make sure that you have thought this through thoroughly. Don’t be put off by this. If you believe that your project will benefit the company, keep working on your idea.

Do you have time to lead it?

Your boss might be concerned about your workload when you are pitching an idea that will take a considerate amount of your time. You can suggest how you going to handle your ongoing work or provide evidence that this project will be much more beneficial to the company. Some people advocate for showing your boss that you have spare time to handle the project, but I would advise against it. Showing that you have spare time, can suggest that you need your boss to assign you more work and it might be from the projects that you are not so excited about. Personally, I would stick to showing the short-term options of handling your workload rather than suggesting that you are out of tasks.

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First Secret: Analyse, question, assses

This is the basis of any well-prepared project or a project pitch. You need to make sure you have an in-depth understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve. Make sure that you look at it from every angle. Not only how it looks now and how you want to change it, but what are the longer-term consequences of implementing your plan? And what are the long-term consequences of not implementing it?

Ask as many questions as you can think of to understand stakeholders’ views of the situation. Is there anything else that is more pressing for them? Is there anything that makes this project important? What are other priorities they have?

Consider as well what objections your stakeholders might have, and listen to any concerns they have. Have a think if they are solvable? Is there anything you can implement in your plan to prevent them from happening? Being able to assess risk adequately is a very important ability when creating projects.

You can think of implementing new software to your company as an example. It may solve some problems, it may support teams to be able to track their productivity or make more visibility to the wider business, but how the implementation is going to look like? How many people will need to be involved to link it to your internal systems? Would there need to be any changes to internal procedures, or would the system adapt? How long will the training take and who will be doing the training? How many people need to be trained? What if someone takes longer to learn? Will implementing this system have any long-term consequences outside of the immediate team using it? This leads us to the second secret to pitching a project idea at work.

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Second Secret: Identify ALL stakeholders

Have a think for a moment as well if your project – or the problem you are solving – is going to affect other areas of the business. This is a very important factor, as when forgotten it can cause long-term problems and struggles for other internal teams (or even external).

For example, in one of my previous companies, the Head of Maintenance implemented a new maintenance system to commission vendors. It was a great idea on paper as it was supposed to simplify how his team works and help him track the works. Instead of calling and having no trace of the works done, the team was supposed to log all jobs via the system, which would match them with a suitable supplier.

Unfortunately, the person who implemented this system didn’t think about the other departments and didn’t consult us on the project. The system was linking his team to the random vendors that were selected by the company leading the software. The software was used as a bridge between us and the maintenance companies, however in the end it was the end vendor raising an invoice.

It has caused lots of issues for the purchasing department, as we had no contracts, or even basic agreements in place, we have never run background checks on them or negotiated pricing. In long term, we were exposing our company to a lot of risks and cost increases, as the costs were not challenged and just went through the system.

It has also caused numerous issues for the finance department, especially AP, as the vendors were not set up in our internal systems. Finance had to verify each individual invoice manually with the maintenance engineers and then – manually again – add the vendor to the finance system. It was not only time-consuming but also left lots of opportunities for errors and delays in payments to small vendors, who were relying on timely payments.

If both our purchasing department and the finance department were consulted on the structure of this system, even though implementation would take longer, we could have it organized in a smooth way. Or perhaps we would have identified that such a system is not the right product for us and we would look for something more suitable (which we ended up doing in the end. I believe the system we used went bust a few months later).

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Third Secret: Simplify

If you do a word search on my blog, the first word you would get the most hits would be most likely ‘stakeholder’ and the second ‘simple/simplify’. I do believe in simplicity. Very often people use big words, creative graphics, or complicated tables and graphs to show how intelligent they are. But when we are presenting an idea to a wider audience, the spotlight doesn’t need to be on you. You have already proven your worth and importance by getting the job and analyzing an issue that the company is facing. Now is time to put the spotlight on the idea.

You can still do a 20-page presentation filled in with graphs, use big words, and complicated analysis, but I can bet you that it will take you longer to get your stakeholder buy-in than if you used a 3-page presentation and talked in simple terms.

You can still do a 20-page presentation filled in with graphs, use big words and complicated analysis, but I can bet you that it will take you longer to get your stakeholder buy-in than if you used a 3-page presentation and talked in simple terms.

The secret to having your ideas heard is making them easy to be heard. If you explain your idea easily, make it simple to digest to listeners, they are more likely to agree to it quicker. Making things more complicated, will only mean that they will need more time to process it and make sure that they do understand what you are trying to achieve and how.

No executive – hopefully – is not going to make a decision regarding a project they do not understand, as they have to understand how this will affect their business. If you provide them with too much complicated information, they will need to take it away to absorb it. But as you know, other things usually take priority and your project might get attention at the very end of the queue – if ever.

So how to prepare a simple version of your idea?

  1. Sitck to 3-5 pages if using PowerPoint or 1-2 if it’s a Word document. Reduce the word count to only necessary words and make sure that graphics are self explanatory and have all required legends.
  2. Do a ‘mum test’ – would your mum understand what you are talking about if you were to give a presenatation to her? Otherwise, you can also do your presentation first to a collegue who has nothing to do with your project, so for example, if you are in finance, tell it to the Head of Marketing or Product and see how they react and what questions will they ask.
  3. Have a data file at hand – the questions will come and you need to be prepared for them. But instead of putting all your eggs in one basket – the presentation – keep the data at hand in a well prepared Excel file, that you can whip out if needed.

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How to identify a project idea at work that will inspire your stakeholders

When you started working, it is most likely that your boss was setting up your goals and objectives and identifying which projects should you pursue. As you progress in your career, you should notice that more often you are not only required to set your own objectives but also to be able to identify valuable projects ideas and pitch them to your boss and stakeholders.

Sounds scary? Don’t worry – this article will take you through the basics you need to know to find the next project idea that will inspire everyone around you.

how to identify a project idea that will inspire your stakeholder

Know your crowd

I talk about it very often on this blog, but knowing your stakeholders – including your boss – is crucial. By building close relationships you can learn all about their own goals and objectives, what obstacles and challenges are they facing and what is important for them overall. You will notice that some stakeholders are very particular about their time, others want to protect their teams and their workloads, others want to avoid any risks, and more often than not – they will care about all these things.

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You will be going back to your stakeholders’ needs and expectations throughout the project, so it is good to know who they are, how they act, and what do they care about.

When coming up with an idea for a work project, the easiest way to do so is to identify some issue ‘close to home’ – meaning something which is related to your job or which is affecting it.

In one of my previous roles, I have noticed that our SME company was using over a thousand contractors for maintenance issues. Because we had over 30 sites and 6 people managing the maintenance of them, each of them had their own contractors that they built relationships with and usually had 2-3 for each issue, ‘just in case’. I was responsible for managing contracts with these suppliers. As you can imagine, this was almost impossible.

The current Head of Maintenance decided to implement software which would manage the vendors and provide us data about the costs incurred… It would be a great idea if he didn’t quit right after implementation, leaving me somewhat responsible for the system.

As you can imagine, me in my mid-twenties at the time, trying to convince a bunch of 40-60-year-old technicians that they should rethink the way they operate wouldn’t sit brilliantly with them if I just showed up and start talking about changes. This brings me to the next point:

Get a sponsor

In bigger companies ‘sponsorship’ is an actual thing and can relate to budgets and officially paving the way for the team, however you can use this in an unofficial way in a smaller company too. A sponsor is someone who understands and believes in what you are trying to achieve. They will speak for you at the higher levels and will support the communications when needed.

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Going back to my maintenance example, my sponsor became Head of Operations, to whom all the maintenance was now responding. I admit it was lucky, as this was at the same time a person who managed the team I wanted to influence and someone who deeply cared about the P&L and understood how multiple vendors are affecting us.

Your sponsor can be anyone who is high enough in the company to help you make an impact. It can be your boss, your boss’s boss, head of finance, or any other department. You don’t need to formally ask them, but when you search for the right person, talk to them about the project and observe their reaction. Do they understand how this will affect them, do they ask insightful questions, do they give you recommendations on who to talk to? If yes, they are your person.

Get the data

Before pursuing your idea, make sure you have all the relevant data and that you understand the implications of it. Before I talked to the maintenance team about reducing the number of vendors we have had, I have analyzed these in detail.

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  • how many vendors are there?
  • how much money do we spend with each vendor?
  • how often do we use them?
  • how many transactions are there annually? How many invoices?
  • how does a high number of vendors impact our finance team? (they have to process large number of small invoices – that takes time and money)
  • how many vendors are in which category (for example how many plumbing companies, how many electricians?)

Your analysis will depend of course on the type of work that you do, my one is from the perspective of procurement category manager, so it is quite specific, but you will need the same depth of information regardless of your role:

  • what numerical data can be drown? Number of instances something occurs, costs assosiated, time.
  • how often does the issue occur?
  • how does it affect the immediate team? How does it affect other teams?
  • what will happen if we continue this way?

If you are struggling with defining your questions and analyzing your topic in more depth, drop me a message. I would love to help you out (no catch here, I will not try to sell you anything, but your experience can help me write future articles!).

Brush up your presenting skills

Once you have an idea in your head, you understand the background, you’ve analyzed the data and understood your stakeholder’s needs and worries, it is best to put all your thoughts in a presentation.

Start by listing the main problem you want to solve, for me it was:

  • to reduce the number of vendors

Then think of the benefits it will bring to your company and stakeholders:

  • more clarity for maintenance team
  • focused on good quality vendors
  • ability to negotiate better rates as more work going through less vendors
  • less paperwork for the finance team, ability to consolidate to monthly invoices instead of per job
  • building better relatiosnhips with vendors
  • les stress about choosing the right supplier by the maintenance team

and so on. List everything you can think of.

As a next step use your data. Pick out some of the most shocking statistics or information. In the past, I would for example calculate the time needed to process the invoices and the cost for the company to pay the finance team to process them (you can find some estimates online per invoice if you are interested in doing this yourself).

To make your presentation more interactive, you can also ask your audience to guess how much does it cost them to process invoices (or do another thing that you are talking about).

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Going back to my maintenance story, what I have done at this point, I have shown them an A3 piece of paper with all their vendors listed on them. That was the first shock that they have seen how many of vendors they have. We have then started going through the ones we spend the most with and the conversation was shocking. Some engineers were saying ‘Oh yes, I do use this vendor a lot, but they are terrible, but I have no one better’, but then another engineer would step in and recommend a vendor they had a great experience with. And that’s when I realized – they never talked about it between themselves.

Showing the data in the most thought-provoking form – sometimes is just one statistic pulled out or sometimes is showing the sheer volume of the basic data – will give you the best results. As people interact best with ideas that they thought they came up with. I can assure you that at this point they already started thinking that collaborating with each other and working with less and more quality suppliers is the best way forward.

Only now present a solution. Once you see the lightbulbs forming, this is the moment to share what you have come up with, or you can even ask them to suggest their solutions. Once they offer 2-3 similar to what you are proposing, you can then suggest yours. This way makes it way easier to create a buy-in without having to actually sell your idea to stakeholders.

And one last thing – presentation does not mean PowerPoint! If you decide to go for it, try to stick to a maximum of 5 slides (10 is pushing it) and only present key information. Don’t write what you are going to say, only highlight the most important fact or entertain the audience.

In the maintenance story example, I only had the aforementioned A3 sheet of paper. That was it, no computer, no PowerPoint presentation. And this created a powerful presentation by a 20-odd-year-old woman to a bunch of engineers who were at least twice my age.

Communicate in a group

This story teaches us one more thing – it is great to build individual relationships, but the best projects include communication as a group. This doesn’t need to be frequent, but putting all stakeholders in one room can create additional benefits to your project and you might realize that certain pain points show up or that they can even solve them by themselves, just by spending time to talk to each other.

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So how to identify a project idea at work that will inspire your stakeholders?

Remember these simple steps:

  • Know your crowd
  • Find an idea related to your day job
  • Get a sponsor
  • Get a data
  • Brush up your presenting skills
  • Communicate in a group

Let me know in the comments if you would like a more detailed walkthrough.