29 Jan Stakeholder whisperer: How to get stakeholders on board
by Ariel Killen-Sweeney
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
You are searching for a client’s contact information on a spreadsheet, only to discover the phone number is missing a digit. Or a longtime vendor calls regarding an invoice, and you must request a hard copy from them—for the third time.
This company can’t continue functioning like this and survive, can it? Not really.
For example, in the manufacturing industry, Curtis Williams, senior account executive at Simplus Australia, believes Industry 4.0 technologies and principles are rapidly changing how manufacturers are operating, and those embracing new technologies are boosting their economic competitiveness. And for those that don’t, well, that’s where leaders like you need to introduce new ideas and solutions.
It’s not easy. Research published by The Standish Group shows that 31.1 percent of projects will be canceled before they’re completed, and 52.7 percent of projects will run over budget by nearly twice as much (189%) as originally budgeted.
But when the need for updating your company’s operating system is imminent, it’s time to approach your stakeholders to discuss business objectives, goals for future growth, and the tools necessary to precipitate those plans. Don’t you want to be part of the 62 percent of successful projects that have an active, engaged sponsor on board?
To be part of that number, you have to pitch the project well to stakeholders. The key to a successful pitch relies on a solid delivery and four simple points of preparation:
1. Build relationships before the pitch
The most effective pitch starts before the game even begins. Find opportunities to talk with stakeholders one on one. Learn what motivates them. And through your conversations, identify which stakeholder has more influence over the others. Those are the people who should capture your attention.
“Listen to your stakeholders and strive to meet their needs—difficult or not. Ensuring they’re feeling heard, valued, and appreciated grows trust and support,” says business expert Daniel Codella. “Building relationships and understanding motivation takes time and effort but will make your job easier in the long run. Projects are more successful when everyone is on board and on the same page.”
Once you’ve gained a better understanding of where your stakeholders stand on how the organization operates, it’s time to approach those who keep it running every day.
2. Understand your audience
Listen to the tone of the workplace, then ask yourself: Is this work environment ready for innovation that may streamline work processes, improve productivity, save money, and create more efficiency in day-to-day tasks? Perhaps coworkers have voiced concern over redundant tasks or seemed frustrated with interdepartmental “log jams” when it comes to getting information. Research what tools or processes they’ve implemented to remedy those roadblocks. Would they be receptive to a more permanent solution, even if it meant scraping their favorite software programs, for example, and adopting a new system?
Moreover, does management echo those concerns? What are their priorities? If your project provides a solution that aligns with those things, it’s time to pitch your ideas for some innovative problem-solving solutions.
3. Be your biggest fan . . .
When we love an idea, we explore every aspect of it. From something small like describing your favorite home-cooked meal in great detail to measuring the garage to ensure your dream car will fit based on every dimension and feature of this bad boy. We collect data about the things we know will make our lives better and happier. That is the strategy you want to use when pitching to stakeholders: a clear vision based on common goals and department feedback with an expectation that you will need to compromise.
“You have to be aware when you take on stakeholders; you are going to have to balance meeting their needs and listening to their concerns with your own,” says Jennifer Buonantony of Forbes Young Entrepreneur Council. “This is always a complicated process but will be more so if you don’t start off having common goals and candid discussions on the company’s timeline for growth and markers for incremental success for your business.”
Welcome feedback from departments, establish common goals, determine your main objectives, research metrics, consider the budget, ROI, and get excited about these solutions. It’s your job to describe this “innovative utopia” in a way that resonates with stakeholders and enables them to see your vision.
4. . . . and your worst critic.
In some ways, pitching a new idea to stakeholders is much like explaining your future plans to your parents, especially if borrowing money is part of the plan. Enthusiasm will only take you so far before the whys, hows, wheres, and what-ifs will come up in the discussion. So do your homework, and come at this pitch from a stakeholder’s perspective.
“Whenever you propose an idea there are certain to be people who do not understand the idea, do not like the idea, or simply don’t like you. So prepare yourself for objections. Consider who will say what and why,” says HBR contributor John Baldoni.
Their concerns may have nothing to do with your role. Instead, the issue may be about costs or timing. “Develop comeback arguments to address concerns,” adds Baldoni. “Use such arguments either preemptively (before the criticism is raised) or after the objection is voiced.”
Whether your ideas are focused on small yet strategic changes or designed to transform an entire company’s culture, such as VP of Administration Chris Osment’s digital transformation journey with Mitsubishi Electric, exploring new ways to keep work processes effective and competitive through strategic change management is an exciting and necessary part of business growth.
But growth won’t get very far without stakeholder support and engagement. Try these four tips—build relationships, understand the audience, be your biggest fan, and be your worst critic —with your next project to make change management and project adoption smoother than ever before.
Ariel is the Director of Change Management here at Simplus. She specializes in organizational change management, strategic planning, communications, and designing effective learning solutions for implementations that drive adoption to support achieving the vision of the future state. Ariel has achieved consistent success in developing and implementing strategies and solutions for the private and public sector, non-profit, manufacturing, and financial services industries. Ariel is 2x Salesforce certified and holds the Procsi ADKAR® Change Management Practitioner certification