You need to understand that the projects you run affect other people. The more people you affect, the more likely it is that your actions will impact people having the power and influence to make or break your project. This makes stakeholder management a critical discipline for you to master if you want to become successful with your innovation projects.
You can get an idea of stakeholder management by thinking in terms of three steps: identification, profiling and communication.
The first step is to figure out who your stakeholders are. Think of internal and external people who can affect your project in both positive and negative ways and people who might feel threatened or stand to gain from your project. Think not only of the obvious people such as your boss, but also on influencers who are not on a formal organization chart. Upon this brainstorming, you can make an early prioritization and place important stakeholders on a short list.
As criteria for placing people on the short list, ask yourself two questions: Does this person hold any impact on my project right now? Does this person have a high impact now, soon or late in the project?
Although working your stakeholders is important, you will often lack the time to work with all of them, so you need to prioritize them early on. However, you should always be prepared to change the status of the stakeholders and add new stakeholders when you learn of people being affected by your project.
The next step is to create short profiles of the stakeholders you have placed on your short list. You can use this information to gain a clearer picture of the stakeholder map that must be navigated to successfully complete a project.
Besides including general information such as name, job function, contact information and a short bio you should ask yourself questions such as: Is the stakeholder an advocate, supporter, neutral, critic or a blocker towards the project? Does the stakeholder have a strong, medium or weak impact on your project and is the impact now, soon or late in the project life cycle? Does the stakeholder hold a formal/direct or an informal/indirect influence on the project? What are the key financial or emotional interests of the stakeholder with regards to your project? Remember to ask yourself why this is so.
You should also look into what we can call the circle of influence. Who influences the stakeholder generally, and who influences the stakeholder’s opinion of you? To which degree are you connected with the stakeholder and his/her influencers?
The last step is to figure out what you want from your stakeholders and what you can offer them – and then communicate with them.
You might not feel you are ready to do so, but you need to communicate with your stakeholders early and often. This makes them know what you are doing and you can use their reactions to make changes that can increase the likelihood of success for your project.
People are usually quite open about their views and the best way to start building successful relationships with your stakeholders is to talk directly with them. If you have problems getting in touch with the stakeholders, you might have to use more informal approaches such as “random meetings” in which you seek out places with a good chance of delivering an elevator pitch that makes the stakeholder interested in learning more about your project.
You should do your homework before these meetings and interactions. Besides having crafted a profile, you should also know what compelling messages to use with the stakeholder and you should be able to deliver quick and concise elevator pitches based on these messages.