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Top tips for stakeholder management

Managing stakeholders is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

It may seem very daunting to find yourself in the middle of a group of people all with different interests, priorities and perspectives and be expected to corral them towards a single goal. You are simultaneously trying to control the flow of information, sift through a quagmire of opinion, juggle changes to timelines and deadlines and still create a fantastic output that delivers on its objectives. And the likelihood is you will be doing this across multiple projects at the same time.

Fortunately, we understand the difficulties involved in managing stakeholders and we’ve done a lot of it over the course of our careers. With that in mind, we’re going to share with you five simple tips to help take some of the stress out of your stakeholder management.

1. Make sure you know who they are

Always check who your stakeholders are at the start of every project. It is very easy to assume you know who these people are, but your web of stakeholders can often be larger than you first realise. Consider the following:

·       Your immediate team

·       Their senior reports

·       Wider teams (legal, finance, tech, compliance, product)

·       External customers

·       Agencies

·       Contractors

·       Suppliers

·       Governing/ industry bodies

Knowing who your stakeholders are from the start allows you to give everyone a voice in setting the objectives and direction of the project. This creates the right environment for a more efficient process and a more successful outcome because you can give early consideration to aspects that affect each stakeholder group. For example, involving front end salespeople can be particularly helpful in marketing comms planning, as their first-hand contact with customers provides valuable insight, and often success of a campaign relies on these salespeople aligning with the marketing narrative.

Having full sight of your stakeholders from the outset also enables you to plan time for reviews with all stakeholders at relevant stages of the project and factor this in to your overall timings. So, make sure to do your research, cast the net wide and map out your stakeholders before your project begins.

2. Communication. Communication. Communication. And as soon as possible.

When working with stakeholders that you might be tempted to avoid involving them until the last possible moment. For some situations (e.g. governing bodies) this works, however in most cases it is best to get stakeholders onboard sooner rather than later. We recommend that once you know who your stakeholders are you should share your short project outline, and set a timeline mapping out what you will need from them, when they will need to get involved and any deadlines they need to meet.

One of the key benefits of this is that you give your stakeholders a chance to highlight any concerns or questions as soon as they arise so that any issues can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Once you have established this foundation, keep this level of communication going. Your stakeholders will appreciate being kept in the loop as things develop, and likewise it prompts them to keep you informed of any issues that may have arisen on their side.

3. Give the right level of information

Communication may be key, but part of communicating is not only knowing what to say, but what not to say. When you are working in the detail of a project it can be tempting to draw others into the detail with you. However, keep in mind that most of your stakeholders are time-poor and won’t need to know all of the nitty gritty you have gone through to get to where you are. Therefore, when communicating with stakeholders be sure to give them only the key information they need:

·       Remind them what you need from them and when.

·       Provide any required context for what you are asking them to do.

·       Highlight any points of note, such as key changes to the project scope that they may not be aware of, or specific questions you need their help with.

This should be kept succinct. Remember, if they need more information they can always ask for it.

4. Handling stakeholder input

When asking for your stakeholders to give their input or approval on projects keep in mind that this should be a positive exchange. For instance, when a stakeholder gives comments on a piece of work, they are not criticising it but offering their expertise.

However, juggling lots of feedback from various sources can be difficult, especially if the feedback is conflicting. It is important to remember that while stakeholders may be more experienced or seem very assertive in their opinions, it does not always mean they know best. Your priority (and theirs) should be to work in the interests of the project and its objectives; compromise is important, but do not let it undermine the project’s purpose. Therefore, when you receive input from your stakeholders, compare it with the original brief and ask whether the feedback will enhance or hinder what you are trying to achieve. If there is a conflict with the brief, or between two sets of feedback, don’t be afraid to open up a dialogue so both sides can lay out their rationale and a suitable solution can be agreed upon.

Having a strong brief can be an incredibly useful tool in these situations; the brief sets out what you need to work towards and if, as mentioned above, you involved your stakeholders from the start of the project, then they should be aligned to the brief and the direction it provides.

5. Closing statement

When the project is finished it can be tempting to file it away and move on. However, providing a final update to your stakeholders gives them clarity on the project outcome, brings them all back together in a moment of celebration, and is a great way to reinvigorate your stakeholders ready for your next project.

In your closing statement we recommend including the following:

· A thank you to your stakeholders for their input, because recognising the contributions of those involved is always important.

· A copy of or link to the final project output(s) so they can see what was achieved, this is especially important for those involved at the early stages of projects as they often miss out on the “big reveal” to see what their efforts have gone towards creating.

· Any results from the project (quantitative or qualitative) to show whether it achieved its goals. If the results are positive then this is something to build on in future, but if the results are negative we encourage you to share them anyway.

· A quick summary of key lessons learned (whether good or bad) which can be reinvested to improve future projects. This is particularly important if the project results came in lower than expected as clearly something needs adjusting next time around.  Opening the floor for your stakeholders to feed into these learnings can also be very beneficial to give a fully-rounded perspective for improvements and ongoing success.

So there you have it, five simple tips to help you handle your stakeholders. There are many other tactics you can employ to enhance your stakeholder management further and improve your project outcomes in the process.

If you’d like to find out more, then please get in touch by emailing Rachel Arquati at r.arquati@clearb2b.com

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