Top tips to build and manage your stakeholder relationships.

Ann Borg

One of the main drivers of success on a large transformation project is the way you build and manage your relationships with key business and project stakeholders.

It's likely that you'll have a large number of stakeholders in scope so it's important to develop a well-structured plan for engaging and communicating with them. You will also need to use different strategies and approaches for different people as this is definitely not a case of 'one size fits all'.

Poor stakeholder management can easily cause a project to fail. However, if you get it right, your stakeholders will become allies and champions for training. They will help influence positive outcomes throughout your project and engage their people to get them ready for their training experience. Some of your stakeholders will also play a central role in signing off both your training strategy and the learning content, so it's crucial that you agree roles and sign off processes at the start of your project.

So, who are your stakeholders and what is their role?

Your stakeholders will typically be made up of two groups, both of which have an interest in the changes that are taking place. Some will be directly involved in the project and will sit on a project steering group. These people will have the power to influence and shape decisions. There will be others who are not key decision makers but who need to be kept informed about progress, as they have accountability for people and business areas impacted by the change.

At the start of your project, it is important to map your stakeholders and ensure that all areas in scope are represented and that stakeholders are placed in one of the two groups described above. You must also assess where individuals sit in relation to the change taking place. Review the losses and gains that the change will bring for them and identify whether individuals are advocates or slightly more resistant to the change and to your training approach and plans.

Once you have this view you can develop a more tailored approach to engaging them.

Top tips to engage your key stakeholders

  • Aim to build strong relationships early on with the key decision makers and involve them in shaping the training strategy and approach. Share your vision of what success will look like and give a 'big picture' view of where you are heading.
  • Seek advice and assistance from more positive stakeholders on how best to manage and influence anyone who is not as receptive, particularly on important training decisions. I have found that peer influence can be more effective than you, the training manager, trying to independently influence difficult people.
  • Regularly meet with key stakeholders who are resistant to the change and the training. Involve and consult with them so that their concerns can be voiced and at the same time take the opportunity to re-emphasise the benefits of the change.
  • Agree how and when you will communicate training project progress and then stick to it! Keep your communications simple and to summary level and highlight key milestones and successes that have been achieved.
  • Share your early project plans as these will show you have a structured approach and will build confidence in you and the training activity.
  • Keep surprises to a minimum! From my experience most stakeholders like an early view of risks and issues. It's important when presenting these to be solution- rather than problem-focused. Develop a number of potential options for mitigating or resolving issues as this will enable people to make an informed choice rather than feeling they only have one option on offer and no room to manoeuvre.

Defining the stakeholder sign off role

Some of your stakeholders will be involved in signing off the e-learning content or other elements of the training blend. It's crucial to be clear with them about their role up front, but all too often these early discussions are overlooked. Issues and delays in sign off can have a major impact on your training design and delivery plans so it's vital that you add this on-boarding activity into your plan.
Your stakeholders need to understand that they are accountable for ensuring that the training covers all areas in scope including process, system and behavioural change; meets the needs of their business areas and is accurate; and contains the appropriate key business messages and positioning.

Involve your stakeholders as early as possible in the design stage. I have found that taking the time to engage stakeholders up front and walking them through the high level content helped to highlight and resolve queries and concerns before the e-learning was developed. Subsequently, at the formal script, alpha and gold sign off stages, the process ran much more smoothly, as people weren't viewing the learning for the first time. This early investment in time definitely paid off.

Your stakeholders will be busy people and so it's essential for you to give them a realistic view of how much of their time will be needed to review and then attend sign off meetings. This way they can ensure that they have the time allocated in their diaries in advance. As project manager you also need to help them understand the implications of delays to sign off of the e-learning, in terms of cost and in addition, the impact of slippage on overall design and delivery timelines.

Your stakeholders are central to your project and if you take the time to really engage and involve them, then they will become powerful and supportive allies who will help you to achieve success.

Ann Borg

Transformation Change and Training Consultant