In this fourth instalment of the Business Excellence series, we’ll explore stakeholder management; a skill that involves clarifying, informing, engaging and winning over those with a pivotal role or vested interest in a project or outcome. 

Stakeholder management is one of the core challenges in learning and development. Whether we’re developing a sizable solution, rolling out a dynamic governance strategy or aiming to create meaningful business transformation, we’ll need to get a host of stakeholders on side. 

Effective stakeholder management can help you glide effortlessly across a project, whereas the alternative can create choppy waters. 

Who are our Stakeholders? 

A stakeholder is, quite literally, anyone with a stake in your project. This is usually through interest and/or influence. For example, they might be a client manager or a business leader in your organisation. On the other hand, they might be a shareholder or board member. 

Our primary goal is to consider and address the needs of stakeholders, whilst identifying how they can positively influence an outcome. Good stakeholder management creates trust whilst avoiding conflicting interests and goals. 

Aside from adding tangible value, stakeholders can introduce challenges into a project. Not everyone’s vision is the same, so everyone may have a slightly different outlook on the definition of success. 

There is a saying that if you get too many stakeholders in a room together, they probably won’t agree on the colour of an orange. This is why your ability to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders can directly impact your success.  

 
Stakeholder Categories 

We generally deal with two categories of stakeholders: internal and external. 

Internal stakeholders are part of your organisation. They might have significant influence on how the organisation operates and, as a consequence of that, the ultimate success of the business. 

External stakeholders are not directly linked to your organisation; however, they will have an interest in the organisation’s activities. In the learning and development sector, this will include clients and subject matter experts. 

Combining elements of networking and influencing, stakeholder management can build valuable long-term relationships that support us throughout the lifecycle of every project, and through every interaction. It isn’t purely about winning work or managing interests and expectations around deliverables. 

Best Practice 

Great stakeholder management means coordinating your interactions whilst assessing the status and quality of our stakeholder relationships. As with most business relationships, dependability and reliability are paramount. 

Effective stakeholder management can help you to solve problems and offer valuable recommendations. By aiming for clarity, managing uncertainty and eliminating distraction, you can even support your stakeholders in making difficult decisions. 

Additionally, you should aim to build strong and lasting relationships with stakeholders based on multiple layers, cultures, and perspectives. Only then can we combine the knowledge and experience of many to create one focused and informed view. 

Help them to help you by identifying, prioritising, and supporting the stakeholders you meet through your day-to-day role.  

Empathy 

Empathy is critical in stakeholder management because we need to recognise and manage both a stakeholder’s situation and emotions. For example: 

  1. What pressures are stakeholders under? 
  1. What might the stakeholder be feeling; what are their concerns? 
  1. What do they currently know and believe? 
  1. What do they hope to achieve? 
  1. How can we empower our stakeholders to impress their own stakeholders? 

Expectations 

These are vital points because if you know what stakeholders want and need, you can exceed expectations. 

A simple example is where a project stakeholder needs to ‘sell’ a proposed solution in-house. We can support that stakeholder by developing clear and dynamic assets that will inform and impress. This could be anything from a dynamic content map to more complex promotional media. Make it easy for them. 

Stakeholders will bring unique expectations and priorities to a project. It’s likely therefore that these will clash from time to time. Priorities and expectations might be based on personal circumstances, departmental objectives or professional background and experience.  

A stakeholder might want an entire project completed before they go on holiday for example, and thus might be committed to seeing a project complete sooner than other stakeholders prefer. 

Involve your Stakeholders 

Involving all of your stakeholders should inform your strategic planning. Always remember the three golden rules: 

  1. Communicate: Keep all stakeholders up to date 
  1. Consult: Involve all stakeholders in decision-making 
  1. Collaborate: Empower all stakeholders to track and shape wider progress 

Ensure that your stakeholders know who you are, what you’re aiming to achieve and how you plan to get there. Make it easy for your stakeholders to impress their stakeholders. Only then will they become advocates; actively supporting and enabling a shared vision. 

The next blog in our Business Excellence Series looks at Negotiation. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates on new content and to learn more about RTS Group, our clients and behind the scenes of our busy digital L&D agency.   

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