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The five best techniques to engage people on projects

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Engagement helps drive action on projects. It’s people who do the work. Engaged, interested and motivated people are key to getting tasks done on time, to the required scope and at a level of quality that results in stakeholder satisfaction.

Engagement is also a bit of buzzword, and it’s also challenging to put into practice, especially when there are so many parts of a project that need attention. When our teams are engaged, the workload and environment for the project to succeed, improves. There are lots of different ways to engage stakeholders, but beyond talking to people, how do you actually do it? Let’s look at five easy techniques that you can use tomorrow, drawn from my book, Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to Harness People Power.

1. Expectation mapping

Expectation mapping is a way of recording what people are expecting to get or expecting to happen as a result of the project. It’ll help you understand where there might be areas of conflict or misunderstanding.

How to do it: Ask each individual or group representative what they think the project is going to do for them or the business. Look for conflicts in expectations, for example where one stakeholder group thinks something will be delivered and another doesn’t. Use the information to align expectations and create a common understanding of what the project will deliver.

2. Concerns mapping

Similar to expectations mapping, concerns mapping is a way of recording what people are worried about on a project. It’s another way for you to understand where there might be areas of conflict and can help you uncover risk.

How to do it: Talk to each stakeholder or group representative to find out what concerns they have. People may be reluctant to share concerns so openly at the beginning of a project, so you can return to this exercise throughout the project and update it. Use the information to compare and contrast the worries people have shared. Some might be easy to address. Others might require further discussion. Transfer anything relevant to the risk or issue logs where you can actively manage them.

3. Using others to engage

Identify influential individuals who could help shape the direction of your project. Engage with them so they can amplify your message and to reach stakeholder groups that you cannot reach alone.

How to do it: Be clear on the outcome you want. Consider who can help you achieve that. Look for people with formal and informal power within the organisation, with links to the communities you want to reach. Find a role for them where they can be valuable and feel like they are making a useful contribution. You can be straight up and ask them for help in engaging the communities you are struggling to reach, or you can assume that they’ll do so informally through their daily interactions with others.

4. Using social proof

Social proof is a marketing concept that says you are more likely to take action if you see that other people already have. It’s why we check reviews on websites before we buy something.

How to do it: People are more likely to get involved if they can see that others are already involved and haven’t been negatively affected. Find some customer stories, share successes, talk about what the project has achieved and how much fun it is working together. Take photos of your team out and about. Think of every opportunity as a moment to get some good internal publicity.

5. Be ready!

The easiest way to engage others is simply to be ready to talk about your project to any interested person, at any time.

How to do it: Carry around your action log or a one-pager on what your project is all about to use as a conversation prompt or an opportunity to remind people what actions they should be focused on. Or create opportunities, for example:

  • Make sure you’re in the lift with someone you need to speak to.
  • Catch someone you have been trying to speak to at the end of the day and walk them out to their car (if you can do so without coming across as annoying).
  • Call someone with information they will find useful and while on the phone ask them for an update on their project tasks.

­ Any time you are talking to or working with another person, you have the opportunity to engage them. Share your enthusiasm; encourage their contribution. Taking an ‘engagement first’ approach will get you better results for your project, and demonstrate your professionalism as a practitioner.

With the right techniques for stakeholder engagement, you can build strong relationships that enable your team’s and the project’s success. For more tips on how to understand and connect with others, take a look at Engaging stakeholders on projects: How to harness people power.


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