When embarking on an initiative or project of any kind, it’s a given that you’ll need the following to succeed:
Clear goals, boundaries which define the scope, a budget, timescales, a plan to get all the relevant tasks completed by those timescales, and when it’s over, the overall satisfaction of your customer or end user.
However one crucial element is often missed: Stakeholder Engagement and Management.
Who Is a Stakeholder?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a stakeholder as: “A person with an interest or concern in something.”
I’d go further to say that, in addition to having an interest or concern in the outcome, a stakeholder is someone who needs to be involved in the initiative or project, as they will be materially affected when it is completed and the results become apparent.
It follows that if someone – or a group of people – will be affected by the outcome of an initiative, they should be engaged with, consulted and kept informed throughout.
I understand that doing this takes time and can be a test of patience. But engaging with stakeholders is a crucial part of good implementation, and failing to do so just because it can be a painful part of the process can lead to end results which are sub-optimal and unsatisfactory.
Here are two real-life examples demonstrating the point.
The A-Level Grade Debacle of 2020
Due to the pandemic and school closures, A-level students were unable to sit their exams in May. Not having actual results, about 1 million of them had grades estimated by their teachers.
However, the final grades were “moderated” by the watchdog Ofqual’s standardisation algorithm. This, the government says, was necessary to guard against teachers who may have been too generous in their assessments of how their students would have performed.
But in reality? About 40% of students who were expecting A-level results were awarded lower grades than predicted. Not just that, the majority of those downgrades were in schools and areas the algorithm deemed incapable of performing above a certain level. So children from poorer backgrounds, areas and schools have been disproportionately affected.*
Universities make offers based on predicted grades, and with the widespread downgrades many of those offers have been withdrawn.
Which is tragic, considering university admission is one of the main routes out of poverty for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is clear that the Department of Education and the watchdog did not engage with their stakeholders. I see these being teachers and universities in the first instance, followed by parents and students.
Might doing so ahead of time have avoided this debacle and its effects on a generation of young people?
I think so.
*Following significant opposition from students, parents, headteachers, universities and Members of Parliament, the Education Secretary has now scrapped the standardisation model and reverted to teacher-assessed grades.
This U-turn occurred four days after the results were released.
Increase In Fines For Mask Dodgers
Here’s a second example of a scenario where stakeholder engagement would have made a big difference to the outcome.
Late last week, the Prime Minister announced an increase in the fine amount for people who fail to wear masks in shops and on public transport.
Wearing masks has been made compulsory in these locations to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, and the fine raised from £100 to a whopping £3,200 to improve compliance and deter so-called mask dodgers.
The problem? The police weren’t informed of the change beforehand.
If the police, who are critical to enforcing the fine were kept in the dark, how does the government hope to enforce this?
Both examples demonstrate that engaging and communicating with stakeholders is a core requirement of delivering change well and in my view:
- Stakeholder engagement must start as early as possible in the change process.
- Stakeholders should be consulted and informed.
- Input should be sought from stakeholders and that input incorporated into the process, as necessary.
- Communication should be often and regular.
4 Reasons Why Stakeholder Engagement Matters
The Association for Project Management defines stakeholder engagement as:
“The practice of interacting with, and influencing project stakeholders to the overall benefit of the project and its advocates.”
This highlights 3 essential elements for me:
- Stakeholders must be interacted with.
- Following on from those interactions, you will need to influence them to get their buy-in.
- Their input and participation must benefit the project and its advocates.
Bearing these 3 elements in mind, here are 4 reasons why stakeholder engagement matters:
1. Stakeholders Have Expert Knowledge:
If you’ve identified the right group stakeholders, it will include people who are Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in their respective areas.
They will have knowledge and expertise crucial to the development and implementation of your project, neither of which you can afford to ignore.
Their knowledge which will be of immense value and benefit as you and your Project Team work through your tasks and milestones for a successful delivery.
2. Stakeholders Represent the End User:
Stakeholders have a better and clearer perspective of what the end user wants and needs.
Engaging with them early on and throughout the process will ensure that essentials such as the user experience and requirements, and the customer journey are given the attention needed to deliver the right outcomes.
3. They Bring Diverse Perspectives & Opinions:
I know what you’re thinking: “Is this a good thing?”
I can assure you it is.
While it can be time-consuming to seek out, review and assess perspectives and opinions from several different sources, the alternative is costlier in the long run.
And not to mention, missing out on the information and perspectives stakeholders provide will be detrimental to a successful implementation.
4. Your Project’s Success Depends On Their Satisfaction:
I’ve seen expensive IT implementations become white elephants because stakeholders weren’t satisfied, and they ended up with something they neither wanted nor needed.
Here’s what tends to happen in the run-up to those situations: Boss A will have heard of a particular system. It will be one of two things: either a competing business uses it, or s/he knows someone who works in the company that develops the system.
It could even be both.
Said boss decides s/he wants the system implemented – before a business case is made for it and stakeholders consulted. The boss is invested in terms of his / her ego and emotions and orders their team to implement it as soon as possible.
Even if the project is delivered to a high standard such a system might only be used a handful of times, if at all. The system would be functional but without the buy-in and approval of stakeholders, becomes redundant almost as soon as it goes into production.
Sadly, this scenario is more common than you might think. But entirely avoidable.
Stakeholder engagement can be tricky. It takes time, and requires skill to manage different perspectives and agendas. But trying to deliver meaningful change without it will cost you more in the long run.
And if your projects and implementations have been missing this crucial element and you’d like someone who is skilled at managing stakeholders at all levels while delivering the outcomes you’ve specified?
Get in touch; I’d love to help.