by Yolandi Nortje

OPINION

Stakeholder commitment and change management

commitment.jpg

The Project Management Body of Knowledge’s (PMBOK) definition of stakeholders is very broad and all-encompassing, defining them as, “An individual, group or organisation who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome of the project.” Yet, as early as 1963, the Stanford Research Institute defined stakeholders as "those groups without whose support the organisation will cease to exist." The core concept herebeing one of survival.

Could, a stakeholder therefore, not be defined as those groups without whose support a project will fail? For project managers (PMs), the strength of theirrelationshipsbetween stakeholders is critical to a project's survival.


Stephen Covey, widely regarded as one of the most successful management gurus of all time and best-selling author with his 1989 book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said that: "Your organisation is a complex ecosystem of multiple, interdependent parts both inside and outside its formal boundaries-and your stakeholders are its most important elements." This can also be applied to the project environment where three separateyet conjoined groups of project stakeholders can be identified.


The first group of stakeholders to be considered are those within the project, namely the project team. The second group of stakeholders are those outside of the project, but within the organisation; including, but not limited to, the project sponsor, portfolio and programme managers, organisational managers and groups. Finally is the third group that falls outside of the organisation; this group includes business partners, customers, and possibly government regulators and other entities as well. It is important for PMs to remember that whilst some stakeholders may not necessarily be involved in the project, their interests may be affected by the project either positively or negatively, and managing stakeholder commitment has to be accepted as an issue critical to project success.


Covey adds: "The process of building total stakeholder commitment is challenging. Stakeholders have needs in conflict: Employees want more pay, shareholders want higher dividends, and customers want lower prices and higher service levels. It is difficult for any one stakeholder group – even departments within the same organisation – to appreciate or understand each other's needs and how they must all work together to maximise the long-term benefit for all."

In securing stakeholder commitment, project managers will need to undertake a degree of hand-holding throughout the human and emotional stages of contact, awareness, understanding, positive perception, adoption and institutionalisation that stakeholders typically proceed through during the course of a change programme and adopting new ways of working, as illustrated in the Patterson-Conner Commitment Curve.

In 360° Quality, Covey recommends the implementation of 360° feedback system, saying“A key to developing total stakeholder commitment is to institute ‘stakeholder information systems’ that provide regular 360° feedback concerning the perceptions of your primary constituents in all aspects of your organisation. These systems can become the core catalyst for catapulting your organisation to its next level of high performance and quality by using this data to grow powerful, trusting relationships.”

Understanding the steps and sequence for building commitment is a powerful advantage for PMs. Below are some tips on keeping stakeholders engaged and committed, in each of the stages:

The “contact” stage is the first encounter individuals have with the fact that a change is taking place in the organisation that will require them to shift their behaviour and/or thinking. At this point, you need to set the stage for future behaviour – both yours and theirs. Communicate about the change, sharing as much information as possible.


Where possible, involve the stakeholders in the planning process, this guarantees their buy-in and commitment, and explain the reasons for the change.Share any relevant timelines and expectations, so that stakeholders know what to expect.Help all stakeholders see how they will benefit from the change.If you don’t know a particular answer, tell stakeholders you will find out and get back to them within a specified amount of time.Exercise patience; all stakeholders will respond differently, be prepared to handle a variety of responses. Stakeholders will not be able to learn all the information about the change at one time, so be prepared to answer the same questions more than once.Find creative ways to keep on communicating the same message.


Take the time to walk around and become more approachable, this will help you to get information first hand, and helps you see what is really happening.Remember,contact efforts, though, do not always produce awareness. It’s important to separate contact efforts from people being aware of change. Sponsors and change agents are often frustrated when, after many meetings and memos about an initiative, some targets either are not prepared for the change or react with total surprise when it begins to affect them.

The “awareness” stage is established successfully when individuals can demonstrate a working knowledge of the scope of the initiative. During this stage, communicate often, share in-depth information, and reinforce previous messages.Timing is crucial, so communicate the right message at the right time to ensure maximum impact. It is important to solicit and address questions and concerns, and let stakeholders know that all feedback is appreciated. Help get your stakeholders on-board by describing what success looks like.Again, if you don’t know a particular answer, tell stakeholders you will find out and get back to them within a specified amount of time.Encourage open and honest feedback; do not shut down discussion even if it is in opposition to the change.Allow initial venting, but then direct the stakeholder to a more positive and action-oriented discussion. Don’t forget that sometimes the strongest and most vocal opponents become the strongest advocates once they have the answers they need to buy into the change.Listen to the people around you; you will never learn if you talk all the time. During this stage, remember that this awarenessdoes not mean people have a complete understanding of how the change will affect them. They may not have an accurate picture of the scope, nature, depth, implications, or even the basic intent of the change. For instance, targets may perceive that a change is coming without knowing the specific ways they will need to alter their mind-set and behaviours. Before targets can progress toward acceptance, awareness must be developed into a general understanding of the change’s implications.Remember, organisations don’t change, people change.

“Understanding”occurs when people show some degree of comprehension of the nature and intent of the change and what it may mean for them. At this point it is essential that you provide more details as they become available.Identify those stakeholders who view the change as positive and get them involved in promoting the change, and those who are sceptical or view the change as negative and ensure that you address their concerns. Look for opportunities to involve stakeholders in the change process and help you identify risks and benefits.In addition, don’t forget that change of any significance usually has multiple aspects to it, and may produce both positive and negative reactions at the same time. For example, a target may have a negative view of a new company policy regarding relocation every four years but sees positive benefit in the level of job security he or she would experience. People combine these positive and negative reactions to form an overall judgment of the change.

When stakeholders make a personal commitment to support the change and display renewed energy and enthusiasm, it is often a good time to involve them in collaboration as “positive perception” has occurred. When this has happened, create frequent opportunities for success and celebration.Remember, once stakeholders are personally involved, they can be recruited to encourage others to participate.Support stakeholders when they have questions or need solutions, so they can model the new behaviours for others.

“Adoption” is reached when individuals have successfully navigated the initial trial period. Be aware that new problems and issues can arise once employees adopt the new system, and be open to discussing any issues that arise.It is important to remember to track and monitor issues and progress so that you can communicate relevant issues to all stakeholders. And remember, it is more productive and less expensive to figure out how to fix a problem than it is to decide whose fault it was.

When people no longer view the change as tentative and they consider it standard operating procedure, “institutionalisation” had occurred; but this is no time to rest on your laurels. Remember to keep a look out for workarounds and other behaviours that support the old way of doing business; communicate progress made and publicly celebrate successes; and continue to promote positive behaviour.

What to do if your stakeholders don’t play the game?

Many project stakeholders have limited involvement in the day to day activities of the project. It is, however, vital to earn the respect and buy-in and this can be only be done by being open and honest in your communication to them. Ensure that both the positives and negatives are communicated and understood. Of further importance is ensuring that your communication with these stakeholders is consistent in both frequency and format, thus creating a brand that they can get to know and relate to.

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