Leading change means actively engaging stakeholders - both those structurally impacted by the change and those who will ultimately use the product or service. However effective stakeholder engagement and management begins when people know “why” something new is needed, how the change is to occur and that they are part of, and can influence the, transformational or business change process. Naturally stakeholders can only absorb so much information and change in a given period, and yet projects and programmes often fail to adequately consider the collective effect of the delivery portfolio when assessing the impact of deploying a new product or service into a business unit or customer group. As such, it is tempting to make a case for change by simply giving people information. However to truly engage with stakeholders, people must:
- feel that the change is critical (Where are we now?)
- understand the vision (Where do we want to be?)
- know, and be part of, the change process (How do we get there?)
Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management are arguably the two most important business change activities to enable successful programme and project delivery, and yet are often regarded as fringe activities to be delegated or outsourced. This is despite being probably the most challenging and time intensive activities that a programme or project undertakes, particularly as programmes and projects depend on people to respond to the benefits and/or value that they deliver. People will naturally only respond if they are actively engaged. Stakeholder management implies that people can be made to respond positively to a programme or project. However the truth is that programmes and projects frequently have no formal power of authority and therefore have to rely on proactive engagement particularly by the key decision maker to achieve agreed strategic objectives through inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders are people-oriented, great listeners have an innate ability to harness the talents and motivations of their stakeholders to achieve the desired target state.
So for organisations as a whole, it’s important to recognise that effective transformational change does not happen in a vacuum. It has a ripple effect, and where it encounters friction it will slow and eventually stop. So consider the organisation as a system in balance. When changing one part, understand and consider how the other parts will shift. Establishing a case for change is as much about balancing the equilibrium between running the organisation and changing the organisation as it is about convincing stakeholders to support an investment proposal; regardless of a deliberate or emergent approach to idea generation.
For effective engagement with key stakeholders to occur, programmes and projects must understand their needs, wants, interests and motivations. By finding mutual ground, the foundations for mutually beneficial relationships are made, granting opportunities to co-design viable solutions that can be iteratively developed, tested and continuously improved. Today, the term "stakeholder engagement" is broader and more inclusive, focused towards meaningful relationships between the organisation and those potentially impacted the change. Hence why, stakeholders are the very essence of any project.
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