The Uninterested Stakeholder
17th February 2016
One of the key skills on all of the projects we work on at fourLINK is stakeholder management. We simply cannot develop and deliver projects in isolation without engaging stakeholders in the process. Stakeholder Management is fundamental to making a success of projects, by aligning diverse people and organisations to support the intended
A stakeholder is defined as a person or an organisation who in some way has a connection to a project. Even if only a small connection - which may or may not be there for the entire duration of the project - there is a connection. The stakeholder may also hold a positive interest in the project, and want it to succeed in one form another, or a negative interest, meaning they don’t want it to succeed in some way. To further complicate matters, that stakeholder may also hold great power and influence over the project, or very little at a given moment. Stakeholders with very little power and influence can also combine forces and become more powerful, especially when they are against a project. (An example is the Stop Heathrow (Airport) Expansion organisation which started with a few unhappy residents)
There are many techniques which we use in the project manager’s toolkit to dealing with Stakeholders. Some of the questions we ask are:
•Who will you meet in a Project?
•Who has any influence, both positive and negative and in which phase?
•Where are the important decisions taken and by whom?
•Are you addressing a stakeholder without the ability to make decisions?
•Are there “hidden” stakeholders?
•What is the stakeholders real agenda?
Stakeholders interests and power must also be mapped in order to identify which stakeholders with higher power will need more time spent keeping happy, and updated on project progress so we don’t lose their support.
Then there are those stakeholders we quickly identify are uninterested in the project. This is our greatest challenge and perhaps the biggest risk in reaching a successful project outcome. Who are they, why are they uninterested stakeholders, and how do we reach out to them and turn them around?
From many years of contacting, meeting and working with stakeholders we have come to understand why so many prove to be uninterested in the projects we are working on. Even in the business-to-business sense where we are looking at longer term business and opportunity creation, there is so often a surprising lack of interest in engagement in a project which can benefit the stakeholders themselves.
Even within the same organisation, different departments or teams have different levels of enthusiasm for projects with some backing and other opposing. From our experience of un-interested stakeholders, the tell-tale signs are quick to see: the phone not being answered, calls not being returned, emails being ignored, promises to return information or comment and nothing being received when agreed. We can summarise the reasons why this happens:
“I am too busy to look at this”
Which when translated usually means one of the following:
“This is not my priority right now”
“This does not interest me”
“I don’t think this involves me”
“We looked at this before, and it didn’t work”
“This looks too difficult or expensive”
“I’m only interested in immediate results”
“We don’t believe this is serious or will happen”
“We don’t know /trust you” (which aligns closely with the previous response)
“We are looking at or aligned with some other project or idea”
“We are scared of change, and feel threatened by it”
Once we understand more of the underlying reason behind why we are dealing with an uninterested stakeholder we can then plan our strategy in dealing with them. Our goal is to turn them into enthusiastic and positive stakeholders who are aligned to the project vision, and feel “win-win”. One-on-one personal meetings is often the first step for us to explain the project, the goals, the vision and the support required. Scepticism often still exists and so further lobbying is often made to try and win over the negativity, and build trust.
We normally find we are able to do so, and even the most hardened of sceptics are often turned into supporters. Knowledge transfer, trust building or simple involvement in the project are often enough to win supporters. Some stakeholders simply want to be listened to.
But there are times, when other priorities will always outweigh support for our projects, meaning that some stakeholders will never cooperate, compromise or even return their phone calls. Even if their business, or their personal reputations may be enhanced by being actively involved in a new project, development or initiative, they have no desire to open up and cooperate.
Escalating the problem sometimes brings fresh perspectives or new angles, but often some stakeholders are simply uninterested and unless they try to proactively de-rail the project, then it is time to move on and leave them. The door is never closed to them, but active engagement ends and they are effectively excluded.
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