I work a lot with people that are in the New Product Development (NPD) function who are constantly juggling multiple projects on tight timescales, with lots of what needs to happen being out of their hands. I think the project management skills that are needed in those roles is often underestimated, along with the negotiation skills needed to deal with so many different departments.

So many of the delays to projects, last minute changes and heaven forbid, failed launches, are as a result of other people not doing what they said they would, when they would. I hear from my clients  how frustrating this is (as well as lived through it myself) and the knock on effect of stress, overwhelm and in extreme cases – burnout.

In fact, I know that if I had been better at influencing and managing my stakeholders, I may not have burned out quite as catastrophically as I did 10 years ago. (which you can read about – here)

Maintaining relationships with the people who have the most impact and influence on whatever you’re working on, is the key to not only getting the job done but also being a strong leader.

Every project we work on involves other people, there’s no getting away from it and learning to build the right relationships with the right people and holding them accountable or keeping them informed is an important part of ensuring success. I’ve been avoiding using the term “stakeholder management” as it often fills people with fear. But, I will be honest, that’s what I am talking about here! There are lot of models out there of how you can do this stuff, but I wanted to simplify it as much as possible, to stop that fear and start managing those stakeholders.

So, here’s my whole days course, condensed into 5 steps

1. Identify who the people are that matter

Thinking about your workplace or specific project, map out all the people you either come into contact with or need decisions from to be able to do your job. The level of detail you need to go into here depends on 1) the size of the project 2) The amount of support the project needs 3) the time you have to be able to communicate.

Do this exercise with colleagues at the start of the project as you may not be able to identify everyone yourself

2. Work out how much they care and how much influence they have

Mendlow’s Matrix (1991)

You need to take your list of people from step and identify how interested they are in the project and then how much power they have over it.

Mapping your stakeholders might feel like a waste of time but it can pay dividends later down the line so, this step is important. Some people that have been rubbed up the wrong way can put blockers on your project. Others might not really care what you’re up to and are sick of receiving emails about it (so miss the essential ones they must read). Can you see why all stakeholders are not necessarily the same?

Use the Power / Interest Grid to help map out where there level of interest / power sits.

This can help you to identify how you need to manage the relationship with them:

High Power, Interest (Manage Closely) – you must fully engage these people in the project, this is where you concentrate efforts on building strong relationships and keeping them happy

High Power / Low interest (Keep Satisfied) – the level of power of these people means they should not be forgotten about, so a lighter touch of communicating with them may be better

Low Power / Highly interested (Keep informed) – these can be helpful allies, helpful with the detail and good people to bounce ideas off. Its good to keep them informed and check in occasionally

Low Power / Low interest (Monitor) – these are the people that will delete your emails without reading them if you over communicate, so don’t bore them with excessive communication

3. Work out what makes them tick

This is a key step so many miss – identifying your stakeholders is one thing but working out what makes them tick is another. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s in it for them?
  • What’s the implications of the outcome of this project for them?
  • What info do they need from you and how do they like to be communicated with?
  • How will you win their support?
  • What might their objections be and how will you handle them?
  • What else might influence them? (e.g. don’t ask an accountant for anything at month end!)

4. Be clear with them and work out how to communicate best

So often I hear from clients about their stakeholders not doing what they said they would, but when I delve deeper with clients it often becomes clear that they may not have been 100% clear on expectations. Part of the reason for this can be the misuse of language. For example “Can you get me this by Friday?” is a very different way of communicating than “I need this by Friday or we will miss the launch, can you confirm you will get it to me by then?”

So, along with the language you use, think about what other ways you communicate and be clear with everyone on expectations.

Remember that having an action hidden in an email, which is one of hundreds someone is receiving each day, does not get you off the hook. If your stakeholder is important enough and their ability to make or break your project is high, it’s up to you to make sure the message is getting through. It’s worth discussing right at the start with those key stakeholders – what’s the best way to get an answer from you?

I  once had a key stakeholder who just could not keep up with Teams messages as she was always on the road, so we took her out of the group chat and one of us would phone her if she needed a decision on it. Just that one action of taking the overwhelm for her of reading all those messages helped build the relationship but also got us the answers we need. It really is as simple as asking people how they like to be communicated with sometimes.

5. Keep a track of it all

It sounds super simple but is often missed – its important to make sure you keep a track of your actions- use whatever system works for you – trackers (groan), action logs, contact reports etc that there is a centralised place kept for actions so that everyone is clear on their responsibilities

For bigger projects, you can also use a stakeholder tracker, where you take your list of key stakeholders and track their commitment to the project, what you need to do to get them to up the commitment, when you last communicated and all sorts – but this post is all about keeping it simple, so I wont go there right now!

If you would like more detailed support for you or your team on how to better manage your stakeholders, then get in touch with me via email amy@amywilkinsoncoaching.co.uk

I also share more free resources on the oh for foods sake podcast.