What is all the fuss with Stakeholder Management?

watch-icon July 26, 2021

What is all the fuss with Stakeholder Management?

What is stakeholder management, and why do change people bang on about it all the time? 

A few years ago, I decided to undertake a change management certification. I’ve been managing change for about 20 years and decided it was time to go pro. I enrolled in the 5-day change management practitioners course. I figured I would be able to gain some new knowledge, and as a minimum, I’d be able to speak the lingo commonly used in traditional project management. I embarked on a journey to understand and learn. 

What I discovered was that how I’d been managing change for the last 20 years was the way you are supposed to manage change. And actually, I discovered that the way they teach change management is very linear in approach. They teach a step by step process. I had many conversations with the person leading the program about the fact that change doesn’t happen linearly. They agreed but told me that they had to teach it the same way as to project management, or it wouldn’t sell. Hmmm, sit with that for a minute…that’s a blog for another time. 

A change project may follow a linear process, but people change is rarely, if ever, linear. In a project, we have plans, milestones, measurements, project teams, and sponsors. We have a detailed list of all the things that we need to do. Change may look like it follows that linear process. But change does not happen in a linear way. 

Then they covered this term called “stakeholder management”. I’d worked mostly in private and not for profit organizations. It wasn’t until I started working for a government organization that I discovered the project terms called stakeholder management and sponsor. To be honest, I thought they were just some of those ‘special’ government terms that are used to avoid work and deflect what we’re trying to do. Like ‘cost efficiencies’. We all know that the term cost efficiencies is code for cutting money out of budgets. I figured these project terms were just more ‘special’ terms used to soften what we were trying to do in this formalized change process. 

Going through the program, although surprised at how little it was covered, I thankfully confirmed that ‘stakeholder management’ is something that I have done since I started working in change; I just never called it that. 

So what is stakeholder management anyway?  

At its simplest form, it’s understanding who will be impacted and how they will be impacted. Once you discover that, it’s understanding how you can engage with them in a way that helps them to embrace the change and make it meaningful for them. 

Stakeholder management is not about writing a list of people and teams in the company and coming up with a consultation process. That’s a consultation process. Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management truly mean engaging with people who are impacted by the change. It means diving into the deep end with people’s fears and feelings about the change. It means discovering the good stuff and the bad stuff about the change you want to make. 

Just like “change management” does not mean you ‘manage’ change. Stakeholder management is not about managing the stakeholder. The management part of the puzzle is acknowledging that we need to manage the impact on that stakeholder and manage the processes of communication and engagement. We do this to help them to understand what the barriers are to change and the actions they can take to enable them to move through those barriers. 

A significant part of the job of “stakeholder management” is to help them to figure out what the benefit is for them to change. This, of course, takes time and won’t happen with a few emails and a fancy intranet page. It happens through dialogue, coaching skills, and understanding human motivation and behaviour. 

People will only change if the benefits of the change outweigh the benefits of staying, plus the work that it takes to change. 

Let me say that again; we will only change if the benefits of us changing outweigh the benefits of our staying the same, PLUS the work that it takes to change. This is why change is hard. Putting aside group/organisational change and just thinking about individuals. 

Often we hear people say to stakeholders, “change happens all the time; you just need to get used to it”. It’s true, change happens all the time in life, so why is business change so difficult? 

Because when we flippantly say this, we’re talking about gradual change, i.e.: evolutionary change, not the sudden change that happens when we introduce a new process, product, or person. 

Change is hard. Evolution just happens. 

Think about the person you were at two years old. That person no longer exists in any form. You think differently, you look different, your body is completely different, every cell you had at two has regenerated to create a new person. However, that change didn’t just happen; you didn’t go from 2 to 40 overnight. And unless you went through a major body change, like gender reassignment surgery or acquiring a disability, the changes happened gradually over time. 

If we think about this in the workplace, the changes that happen on a day to day basis don’t affect us too much. A gradual increase in sales means a gradual increase in workload, which may mean a gradual increase in people to do the work. You may be in a business that was 25 people and now is 150 people. Most of the time, that didn’t happen overnight. 

That’s not the kind of change that we generally talk about when we need to be engaged in stakeholder management and engagement. The changes we talk about there are the ones that are a quote-unquote, overnight change.  

These are things like implementing a brand new IT digital system that completely transforms how we work with our clients. If we’re going from one system to another system, the transition is about the system. If we’re going from no system to a system, then the transition is about the system, the processes, the practices, and the status of the person that manages the system.  

People are at the heart of every change that is made. We need to understand people to enable us to make these changes. People will resist change if they don’t see the benefits to them. And what they see is a lot of hard work to get to that change. People will also resist change. If in the past, it’s been very clear that you didn’t care about the fact that the change was hard for them. The change took work for them; the change wasn’t a benefit to them. There are several ways people resist change. And you can find out more about them in the attached eBooks that you can download and find out more about people resisting change. 

Going back to stakeholder engagement is not only about managing resistance to change; it’s also about understanding the benefits of change. The more times we speak to the people that are impacted by the change, the more we can understand what benefits will be achieved because of the change happening. This is important for your communication. This is important for your plan your project planning; this is important for your business.  

Stakeholder engagement is just a technical term. A term for making sure that the people within your business are being impacted by the changes made. Understand it, accept it and adopt it. You have to think about the people within the change. Don’t get lost in the technical terms. Don’t use these terms as an avoidance technique. Stakeholder engagement is not aligned on a project plan. It is the key component of making a change in any business.

If you want to know more, or you want some help with engaging with your stakeholders, you want some help making a change in your business that is successful in sticks. Then please get in touch with us at Synergy IQ. 

Michelle Holland