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Stakeholder Alignment v. Stakeholder Management


Mastering stakeholder alignment and effective stakeholder management are pivotal competencies that distinguish executives in today's dynamic business landscape. These skills not only demonstrate an executive's ability to navigate complex organizational dynamics but also signify their capacity to drive meaningful change and achieve strategic objectives. In essence, they are indispensable for any executive aspiring to advance their career trajectory and make a lasting impact within their organization.

 

Let’s dig into what they are, why they are so important, and what good looks like.


Stakeholder Alignment

 

WHAT IS IT?

 

Aligning all stakeholders to one objective.

Aligning all stakeholders toward a singular objective is the cornerstone of effective project management and organizational leadership to ensure harmony with the overall direction of a project or organizational change. By fostering a shared vision and purpose, stakeholders are empowered to work cohesively toward a common goal. This alignment ensures that resources are utilized optimally and that decisions are made with collective wisdom, driving progress and innovation with the least amount of friction.

 

WHAT IT IS NOT?

 

Telling others what should be done or is being done.

Stakeholder alignment is not merely dictating decisions or actions without engaging stakeholders. Merely informing stakeholders about project progress or decisions without seeking their input, opinions, and ideas does not constitute alignment. This approach risks alienating stakeholders who may hold differing perspectives or doubts about the project direction or organizational change. Therefore, true stakeholder alignment involves actively involving stakeholders from the outset, rather than presenting them with completed plans.

 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

 

Agility, efficiency, and effectiveness

When stakeholders are aligned with the objectives and each other on the strategy to achieve it, they will proactively contribute towards achieving the same outcome in a project or organizational change, enhancing agility, efficiency, and organizational effectiveness. Aligning stakeholders streamlines decision-making processes, eliminates redundancies, and accelerates progress toward desired outcomes. By leveraging the collective expertise and resources of all stakeholders, organizations can adapt swiftly to changes in the environment and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Ultimately, stakeholder alignment enhances organizational effectiveness by ensuring that efforts are coordinated, resources are utilized efficiently.

 

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

 

Listening + Understanding + Communicating

Here is a step-by-step guide to achieving stakeholder alignment through listening, understanding, and communicating:

 

1.      Listening: When kicking off a project or organizational change, avoid presenting fully formed ideas, timelines, or outcomes. While it is essential to have initial ideas to guide the discussion, acknowledge these ideas may evolve through collaboration and you are engaging stakeholders for their feedback, ideas, and thought leadership. Then begin by actively listening to the varied business needs and interests articulated by each stakeholder involved in the project or organizational change. This involves delving deep into and posing powerful questions to grasp the core of the business needs and underlying motivations driving each stakeholder’s perspective.  

2.      Understanding: Meticulously align the nuances of each stakeholder's requirements toward a unified purpose and direction that not only benefits the project or organization but also resonates with the collective objectives.

3.      Communicating: Engage in open discussions to provide clarity to the project direction and address any disparities where individual stakeholder needs may not align with the overall vision. By providing clear and transparent messaging, seek to foster understanding among stakeholders and establish realistic expectations for the journey ahead. 

 

Through open communication, collaboration, and a commitment to mutual success, stakeholders become and remain active participants in shaping the trajectory of the project or organizational change, leading to sustainable growth and positive outcomes for all involved.

 

WHAT DOES GOOD LOOK LIKE?

 

Emily brings together senior leaders to discuss and align on the strategic direction of the company for the new year. She opens the floor to gather insights and perspectives from key stakeholders, including the C-Suite and some of their senior leaders. She emphasizes the importance of aligning corporate strategy with the diverse needs and expectations of each focus group including: customers, employees, investors, community and partnerships/alliances.

 

Sample questions she asks the stakeholders:

 

Customer Focus:

-       How can we ensure that our strategic initiatives align with the evolving needs and preferences of our target customers?

-       What feedback have we received from customers regarding our current offerings, and how can we incorporate this feedback into our strategy?

 

Employee Engagement:

-       How can we empower and engage employees at all levels to become champions of our strategic goals?

-       What initiatives can we implement to foster a culture of innovation and collaboration among teams?

 

Investor Relations:

-       What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that investors are most concerned about, and how can we demonstrate progress against these metrics?

-       How can we effectively communicate our strategic vision and execution plans to investors to instill confidence in our long-term growth prospects?

 

Community:

-       What opportunities exist for us to contribute positively to the communities in which we operate while advancing our strategic objectives?

-       How can we ensure that our business practices align with our corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments and resonate with local stakeholders?

 

Partnerships/Alliances:

-       Which potential partners or alliances could complement our strengths and help us achieve our strategic goals more effectively?

-       What criteria should we consider when evaluating partnership opportunities, and how can we ensure alignment with our long-term vision?

 

As the discussion progresses, Emily encourages active participation and constructive dialogue among stakeholders, gathering information and perspectives that she can categorize into themes and risks for overall alignment. By prioritizing stakeholder alignment and incorporating diverse perspectives into the strategic planning process, she will ensure the senior leaders are united in how the company aims to strengthen its competitive position and drive sustainable growth.

 

Stakeholder Management

 

WHAT IS IT?

Systematic engagement strategies

Stakeholder management involves systematically implementing engagement strategies to facilitate transparent and ongoing interaction with stakeholders throughout the project or organizational change. This engagement may take the form of regular communication, such as weekly emails or meetings tailored to meet the unique needs of each stakeholder. Rather than waiting to be asked about project status, the aim is to proactively address stakeholder needs. Effective strategies are established early in the project to ensure proactive engagement throughout its lifecycle.

 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

 

Expectation ManagementMaintaining stakeholders informed about project or organizational advancements is paramount for fostering trust, managing expectations, averting surprises, and securing sustained support and alignment. Through the adoption of proactive methods to recognize, prioritize, and cater to stakeholder interests, project owners can cultivate trust, alleviate conflicts, and tap into invaluable insights stemming from diverse viewpoints. This commitment to transparent and open communication not only strengthens relationships but also reinforces stakeholders' confidence in the project's direction and outcomes, thereby enhancing overall success. 

 

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

 

Effective Communication

Achieving effective stakeholder management requires a multifaceted approach, primarily centered around robust communication practices. This entails not only disseminating crucial messages and updates but also proactively seeking feedback, resolving concerns, and integrating stakeholder insights into decision-making processes.

 

1.      Determine communication cadence: Ask stakeholders how often they want to be engaged during the project so you can meet their expectations and sustain stakeholder engagement to uphold their ongoing support and commitment to the shared outcomes.

2.      Customize communications: Customize engagement tactics to align with the unique needs and expectations of each stakeholder, thereby nurturing a sense of ownership and collaborative spirit.

3.      Address stakeholder concerns promptly: Any stakeholder concerns or feedback should be addressed promptly and transparently, even if you can’t meet a stakeholder’s needs, ensuring the issues are acknowledged and resolved in a timely manner to maintain trust and momentum.

 

Stakeholder management is about cultivating collaborative relationships that empower stakeholders to contribute meaningfully to the achievement of shared goals and drive success. 

 

Case study:

In this scenario, a Program Manager (PM) is assigned the responsibility of creating and implementing a new safety program tailored for TV productions. The PM embarks on a thorough review of OSHA compliance regulations, industry best practices, and conducts stakeholder interviews to gain insights into the current safety practices within productions. Stakeholders willingly contribute information during these interviews, providing the PM with an ample understanding of existing safety protocols and potential gaps.

 

With the acquired knowledge, the PM meticulously crafts a comprehensive safety program aimed at ensuring the safety of crews while also complying with OSHA standards. The program includes the development of documentation to be utilized by every production, complete with instruction manuals and streamlined workflows. The PM ensures that while the program is robust, it remains practical and manageable for implementation.

 

Subsequently, a mandatory training program is initiated for production leaders to familiarize them with the new safety protocols. However, the rollout meetings encountered unexpected resistance from production leaders. Instead of embracing the initiative, production leaders expressed concerns regarding the perceived complexity of the new protocols and fear that it might impede production agility. Some leaders even questioned the necessity of the program, viewing it as an added burden rather than a measure to ensure crew safety.

 

This reaction caught the PM off guard, as she had anticipated widespread support for the initiative. She finds it perplexing that some productions are resistant to becoming OSHA compliant despite her considerable effort invested in developing the program.

What could the leader have done better?

 

Answer: The PM in this scenario may have overlooked several critical aspects of effective stakeholder alignment and stakeholder management:

 

1.     Stakeholder Alignment: While the PM conducted initial stakeholder interviews to learn about the production process, the PM didn’t discuss the nature of the project or seek input from production leaders about their challenges and business needs in relation to OSHA compliance. Therefore, the PM did not align the stakeholders to a specific goal.

 

2.     Stakeholder Management: The PM did not anticipate the potential concerns and objections of the production leaders regarding the new safety program because the PM did not engage production leaders through development of the program. This lack of engagement led to a disconnect between the program's goals and the production leaders’ concerns. So, when the “training meetings” were held, leaders felt like the program was being forced on them. Proactively listening to ideas and any concerns from production leaders during the pre-development and development phase, and iterating on information learned, could have mitigated resistance and garnered support during the roll-out process.

 

Overall, the PM underestimated the complexity of implementing the safety program and the importance of effectively managing stakeholders' expectations and concerns throughout the process.

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