When we look at the skills required for great stakeholder management, the list typically includes skills such as verbal and written communications, negotiation and conflict resolution, and leadership. Rarely do we see self-management on the list, but you can be a better stakeholder management through better self-management and I think it should be on the top of the list.
Self-management is fundamental to successful stakeholder management. Handling changes isn’t just about managing expectation for the stakeholder but about maintaining a learning mindset when the fifth revision of the change strategy is required or when a never-before-heard-of corporate initiative comes into scope on the day communications are due to go out. Self-management is about critiquing your own performance to identify areas of improvement, giving yourself constructive feedback and motivating yourself to be better. So, when you face challenges in stakeholder management, they won’t be frustrating roadblocks, they’ll be beacons to how you can change and be a better stakeholder manager.
At a recent client engagement, we started off with a succinct group of senior stakeholders who were all across the idiosyncrasies of the project, the business and our engagement with them. And then the group became exponentially less succinct. Parts of the business that were outside scope were suddenly in scope. C-level leaders needed to see everything we were doing in the review stages. Managing the stakeholders became so cumbersome that we wondered if we would ever get a sign-off, a happy customer or meet adoption targets.
A simple engagement became our most complicated. We had the mechanical skills and experience but this required a whole new level of awareness and understanding. Self-management skills were required for motivation to persist in the face of challenges; to remain calm and centred as unplanned effort increased; to keep focused on the goals of our engagement; and to respond to difficulties constructively rather than defensively. With these self-management skills, being a great stakeholder manager became less challenging and, in some cases, required little or no additional effort – just a different approach.
As a team, we looked at what areas of self-management would have the most impact and decided to focus on mindfulness and time management. Mindfulness, focussing on the now and ignoring the noise, was important because there was so much going on, both in and around the project, often with competing deadlines. Better time management enabled us to focus on what was important, deal with the urgent stuff but allow us to plan for the non-urgent tasks so we’d be ready. The unimportant stuff, like attending non-essential meetings, was deprioritised with agreement from the client.
The time we spent on capability uplift for the team was minimal, but the impact was measurable. Our stakeholders accepted that we’d considered all facets when we deprioritised activities, they felt engaged and that we were listening to them, and the most recent feedback indicated we’d hit the mark and even exceeded expectations. Internally, our team felt less stressed. Development and peer reviews became easier because we weren’t being waylaid by non-important tasks and could focus on what the stakeholder needed.
It was evident that taking time out to consider self-management and areas for improvement contributed to better stakeholder management. We successfully delivered and this is leading to further opportunities with the client. I’d call that a Win-Win for everyone!
Karen Yen is a Principal Consultant at Cubic Consulting