6) Simple but not easy: the sixth principle of stakeholder engagement
As is often the case with projects, simple actions are not always easy to deliver. Over and above conventional planning, using foresight to anticipate hazards, and taking simple and timely actions with stakeholders can significantly improve project delivery.
For example, in Resilience Planning for natural disasters, risks are identified, planned for and managed by enacting timely strategies. However, it is the unplanned events that can make things challenging, such as stakeholder changes of mind, unforeseen changes in legislation or environmental factors.
Why is it important?
To manage unplanned risks that may impact the project requires planning in order to avoid potential ‘traps and snares’ and minimise effort caused by stakeholder resistance. Such resistance and potential conflict could escalate and derail the project.
Anticipating and having strategies to manage stakeholder resistance avoids the risk of side stepping stakeholders and alienating them if they feel their concerns are not being reviewed and managed.
What does it cover?
Taking preemptive actions to ease later resistance to implementation. These interventions can often be intuitive, characterised by empathy and subtle influence that may result in action, i.e. "random acts of senseless kindness”.
Sensitive behaviour by the project team that can smooth the way or make it easier for stakeholders to respond positively.
Vigilance to spot early signs of disquiet that may be surfacing but not yet understood, and enquiry to reveal what is the issue and what may be at risk.
Responsiveness and flexibility to act quickly and effectively.
How might I do it?
- Listen closely to stakeholders, plan ahead e.g. using scenario planning and prepare accordingly.
- Empower team members to take appropriate actions quickly.
- Monitor key factors such as forecasts and strategy changes to anticipate risks and be prepared to adapt.
- Build a culture to encourage appropriate team member behaviours e.g. Regularly ask the team "What small actions can we take today, to make it easier tomorrow?"
- Be authentic and understand your leadership style.
Use the links below to find particular examples and sources that are relevant to this principle.
Patterns and tools
1 Maister, David, H. (1997). Liking or tolerating clients: True professionalism. Free Press
2 Sunstein, Cass R and Thaler, Richard H. (2009) Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness Penguin Books
3 Pfeffer, Jeffrey and Sutton, Robert I (1999) The Knowing-Doing Gap Harvard Business School Press
Benefits of applying this principle include:
- Disproportionately beneficial return for the effort spent, e.g. goodwill, trust, rapport and confidence.
- Project resilience: having plans that are flexible enough to address unplanned work/issues/risk as they arise without impacting on the main delivery of the schedule of work.
- Motivated stakeholders because they have been treated sensitively and in good time especially when bringing news of the project circumstances and measures to overcome difficulties.
- Spin-off benefits from actively thinking ahead (e.g. identifying risks and short cuts).
- Legacy for future opportunities.
Risks of overlooking this principle include:
- Traditional, linear thinking (i.e. a reliance on being reactive rather than proactive) leading to, for example; misunderstanding and delay.
- More unplanned surprises and project issues leading to greater cost.
- Reduced control and inappropriate actions leading to a demoralised team and unsuccessful project delivery.
- Failure to recognise when you are in a ‘first of a kind’ or ‘one off’ situation that warrants a pro-active approach utilising all intelligence sources and adapting plans.