You’re involved in a major business or technology project. Did you know that your chances of success on this venture are directly linked to the skills, knowledge and capabilities of the other key stakeholders involved? Do you have any idea who they are, really, what experiences they’ve had, what their success rates have been? Here’s an approach you can use to answer those questions while improving the success potential of your project.
Organizations make many demands on executives regardless of whether they are in a business or technology leadership role or the public or private sector. However, the success of a change initiative is almost always dependent on the vision and passion of key stakeholders and their ability to commit the time and effort required to see a change through to full completion.
Therefore, it’s essential to assess the capability of stakeholders and their ability to commit to a planned change in light of other demands that may conflict with the change or divert attention and jeopardize project success. What’s a stakeholder? According to a November 20, 2008 article I wrote for Projects@Work (now part of projectmanagment.com), “stakeholders are the influencers and decision makers. With the exception of the champion role, stakeholders are managers who have the organizational authority to allocate resources (people, money, services) and set priorities for their own organizations in support of a change. They are the people who make or break a change. Champions, on the other hand, are selected for their ability to influence the behaviour of those who must change to support a successful implementation.”
Stakeholders need to assess objectively and collectively their commitment, communication and capability to guide the change in question. It means looking around the table at the members of the guiding coalition, including oneself, and ensuring that all are comfortable with and confident in the collective abilities to get the job done.
The role of stakeholder is most often a function of one’s place in the organization at the time of project launch. Consequently, there may need to be some development or support to ensure effectiveness in those roles.
The following material has been adapted from a Managing Organizational Change program developed and conducted by ODR (now Conner Partners) and a number of other management of change sources. The categories and factors to consider include:
Roles and Responsibilities
The success of a change initiative demands that all stakeholders are actively involved and in agreement with the decisions made on the project. It’s also vital that all stakeholders understand their primary role and the primary role of every other stakeholder on the project, either sponsor, change agent, target or champion.
In today’s organizations, the demands on senior managers’ time are a constant challenge. Gauging the degree of commitment and the ability of a stakeholder to maintain a high level of commitment over the course of a project is essential to successful project completion.
Commitment can be gauged in a number of ways, by sponsors themselves and by the change agents, targets and champions involved by considering the following attributes:
- Provides clear definition of the goals and objectives of this implementation.
- Clearly articulates why this change is needed, and his/her dissatisfaction with current operations is strong.
- Communicates a strong personal commitment to this change in meetings and written communications publicly demonstrates support for this change
- Demonstrates a realistic understanding of the amount of resources required to make this implementation successful.
- Has altered the reinforcement in the organization to support the change – rewards and punishment have been aligned to motivate people to change.
- Has identified and committed the resources necessary to achieve the objectives of the change.
- Demonstrates a willingness to pay the ongoing price needed to achieve this change. Support will be sustained and continuous.
- Knows the perspectives and needs of the other stakeholders
- Has trust and respect of and credibility with the other stakeholders
- Can transfer or delegate current conflicting duties so that sufficient time and personal resources are available for this project.
- Believes that there are clear and sufficient rewards for successful implementation of this project.
- Is very committed to the goals and successful implementation of this change
While the level of commitment may be high, effectiveness is most often a result of how, when and to whom the stakeholder communicates and how relevant the message is to those listening.
A stakeholder’s ability to communicate effectively should be assessed by the stakeholders themselves. The following attributes should be considered:
- Demonstrates strong communication skills, providing clear, concise and understandable messages about each implementation.
- Communicates the rationale and objectives of this change clearly to each target group in a manner and language that specifies what is changing for each group
- Communicates in a manner that encourages direct feedback and promotes a problem solving climate.
- Communicates a clear understanding of the impact of this change on each target group affected
- Knows the perspectives and needs of the targets for this project
- Has trust, respect and credibility with key targets for this project
- Understands the disruption that the change will have on each target
- Can effectively identify and manage the inevitable resistance that will occur during this change.
- Can work effectively with both the formal and informal structure of the organization
- Understands the power and importance of the organization’s culture, especially the “unwritten rules”.
- Can generate a high level of teamwork with key players in this implementation
A stakeholder’s track record and history of success can help determine the leadership risks involved in pursuing a planned change and lead to the development of mitigation strategies to address any issues or concerns. Stakeholder capability can be evaluated by considering the following attributes:
- Has a history of successfully implementing change in the organization.
- Has prioritized the activities of his/her organization to reflect the importance of this change
- His/her current management skills generate confidence in his/her ability to implement this change.
- Demonstrates sufficient knowledge and/or awareness of the technical objectives and requirements for this implementation.
- Demonstrates a sensitivity to the human aspects of this change
- Has established mechanisms and provided the support necessary for gathering data to monitor the achievement of the change.
- Has good working relationships with the key people impacted by the change.
- Has a successful history in the organization with no major political liabilities
- Has significant experience working with different functional groups or departments
- Has significant experience working with all levels of management
- Is viewed as a real asset to the project and not as simply someone who was available
- Has a working knowledge of the key principles of how people and organizations actually change
- Knows how and when to use power and influence to gain support for the change
- Possesses a high level of diagnostic and analytical skills needed to integrate important information about this project
- Understands and values both the human and technical sides of the change.
- Is a team player, comfortable leading or following when it is necessary
Target Skill Requirements
Every major change requires human beings to acquire new knowledge and skills and demonstrate new or changed behaviours. Identification of the specific target audiences affected, the required knowledge, skills and behaviours for each, and the planning to create those new abilities needs to begin at inception and continue through to the successful completion of the change.
So, how does one go about using this information? I suggest democratically. Put together a little questionnaire that covers all stakeholders, to be completed by all stakeholders. The categories and factors covered above can be considered collectively to arrive at an overall comfort level for each stakeholder and category. For example, when evaluating the Commitment category, consider all the attributes listed but arrive at an overall judgment for the individual being assessed. If the category method reveals significant concerns about one or more of the stakeholders, or if a more comprehensive review is desired, the factors can also be included in detail questionnaires that seek a response on each item. This can lead to a more precise understanding of the issues and possible remedies.
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting, a senior consultant at Mapador Inc. and a blogger on Project Times. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org