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“Why stakeholder alignment is so important and how to achieve it…”

Posted by guest on September 17, 2014

The importance of Stakeholder Alignment was not highlighted strongly enough when I started out in Consulting. Over the years, though, I have learnt how critical it is to know who your programme stakeholders are and what you need to do to get them aligned behind your recommendations.

In my most recent client project, great stakeholder management and alignment was the key ingredient to getting a multi-million pound investment proposal through at the first time of asking. Success in this area has helped deliver impressive results for me and it can do so for other Independent Consultants and their clients.

Who are your stakeholders?

I have a pretty simple definition of a business stakeholder. It’s someone who will be impacted by your project outcome or will have an influence on the approval decision you are seeking. Stakeholders can be from across the business and they will not only be senior managers.

Why is stakeholder alignment important?

How often have I heard of project teams preparing for a vital presentation after long weeks or months of effort but then fall at the final hurdle? Well many times; and I have to say before I learnt how to align stakeholders it happened to me too.

Typically, project team members work hard and feel great about what they have done but do not realise how important stakeholder alignment is to their success. Even if they do know it’s important, they may not understand how to identify who are the key stakeholders or how to align them. It’s something that can all too easily slip down the priority list. I think also there can be some reluctance to engage stakeholders, certainly senior ones due to fear of resistance or rejection. So the focus tends to be on the project deliverables and any stakeholder engagement happens last minute, which is of course is too late.

And what happens? Even if the analysis is of the highest quality, the findings sound and the conclusions well-reasoned, if it all comes as a bit of a surprise to the stakeholders you probably won’t get the result you hoped for. There are bound to be issues you weren’t aware of or haven’t thought through. And if any of your stakeholders are resistant to change or feel they haven’t been fully consulted then things are going to get a little tricky!

The outcome could be an outright rejection of the proposal or you will be asked to do some rework…that takes time and could mean other business priorities suffer. The project team will be disappointed and demotivated; there could be loss of credibility for certain individuals in the eyes of the stakeholders and a related negative career impact.

How do you align your stakeholders?

A foundation to all my projects is a structured stakeholder alignment programme. It doesn’t matter what phase of a business transformation process you’re in, the stakeholder alignment programme will be key to your success. Here’s an overview of the steps required to set this up and manage it:

1) Identify: Work with the project team to identify your stakeholders - individuals, groups or indeed other projects across the business who will be either impacted by the change or have an influence on the decisions required.

2) Prioritise: Prioritise these stakeholders around their importance to the project and their current level of alignment behind it.

3) Set targets: Set alignment targets for each stakeholder and design an engagement programme to achieve these targets.

4) Schedule: Develop a schedule for stakeholder engagement meetings driven by your stakeholder prioritisation

5) Engage: Plan and run the stakeholder engagement meetings to ensure there is clarity on what changes are being proposed, why and the anticipated impact on the organisation. Key messages should then be cascaded by the stakeholders to their own teams to deliver the widest engagement within the organisation – it’s all about no surprises.

6) Review: Review the outcome of the stakeholder engagement sessions, reprioritise your stakeholders and repeat the process.

You will find much more detail on stakeholder alignment in our online learning programme, “Consulting Capabilities – Part 1”. Click here to find out more.