Who is in your corner? - Michelle Gibbings

Who is in your corner?

With your role come stakeholders. Some might be easy to work with, others not so much. What’s common is they can make the progress you seek to make at work easier or harder.

This is why it is crucial to know who’s in your corner, particularly if you are trying to change a system, process or practice.

For every change initiative, there will be supporters and detractors. Do you know who these people are? Have you spent quality time analysing their interests and understanding their position?

Failure to bring critical stakeholders along is one of the primary reasons that change efforts fail. When you know the hot spots and opportunities, you are better placed to build and maintain a coalition of support.

While this sounds like a basic idea, it is easy to overlook and deprioritise when there are competing demands on your time. The solution is to take a structured approach to stakeholder management.

For each stakeholder, you need to know:

The role they are playing
Are they playing the role of an engineer and ‘making the change happen’? Are they part of the work crew, where they are ‘helping the change happen’? Are they a bystander, simply ‘watching it happen’? Or are they acting as a roadblock, so they are trying to ‘stop it happen’?

If they actively support the change, they will be working to make the change happen by backing decisions and providing resources and input. Or they may be happy to support your efforts if they are explicitly asked and the need explained. On the other hand, they may be ambivalent, and while not actively engaged in the change, there could be potential for them to do more. Lastly, they may be actively working against the change, which means understanding why is critical.

Having a clear picture of each stakeholder’s perspective helps you understand what type of engagement you need to elevate their buy-in.

Their ability to influence
What position does the stakeholder have in the organisation? Are they a decision-maker with influence? Will they make the ‘go/no go’ decision? Are they a recommender, influencing a decision-maker to advise whether a change should be stopped, started or continued? And lastly, do they have little or no impact on the decision?

Understanding the influence they have helps you prioritise how much time you should be spending with each stakeholder. The higher the degree of power, the more time you will need to devote to them.

The personal impact the change may have on them
This assessment is essential because personal considerations may influence the stance a stakeholder takes on an initiative.

Will the change impact their role, level of position or authority in the organisation, and their perceived ability to succeed in the organisation?

Whilst individuals might say their decisions and actions are not influenced by personal impact, it is often challenging for individuals not to let such matters cloud their approach despite best intentions. Understanding the likely impact means you can factor this knowledge into your engagement strategy.

Examining all these elements helps paint a picture of your stakeholders’ issues and concerns and their ability to impact the progress of your initiative.

For example, if a stakeholder is actively working against the change, is a decision-maker, and the initiative is likely to impact their position, getting them onside may be problematic. In this situation, consider the supporters you have who can counterbalance their influence on decisions. However, suppose you have a stakeholder actively working against the change who cannot impact decisions. In that case, they are less likely to derail the initiative, and so you won’t need to spend as much time trying to get them on board. A word of caution: always take a long term view as stakeholders can change quickly in organisations. Someone you may view as not relevant can soon become a critical stakeholder.

The best approach is to set aside dedicated time each month or each quarter to review and discuss your stakeholders. The frequency depends on the size, scale and pace of your change program.

In a large scale transformation program I worked on, we devoted half a day each quarter to running a detailed stakeholder planning session. Before this session, we would review our stakeholder lists for currency. At the session, we would debate the stakeholder’s position regarding the change and determine what actions needed to be taken in the next quarter to harness support. The session’s power was in the conversation, highlighting the different perspectives we had on stakeholders and their support or otherwise for the change. The discussions were robust and led to a much more focused, consistent and planned approach to managing stakeholders.

Leading a change initiative isn’t easy, but it’s even more complicated if you don’t devote time and resources to building and leveraging a strong stakeholder network.

As the infamous Niccolo Machiavelli said: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 

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