View stakeholders as assets that improve project performance

Like a faded dream, it was not so long ago that we used to talk about specialisation and the division of labour as key features of a modern economy. They were concepts from the industrial age and the management practices and theories of factories. So much has changed.

Today, while specialists still exist, and in some fields there are laser-focused specialists, simply knowing what to do is not enough. Knowing how to go about it is also vital and collaboration is the name of the new game.

Australia has a workforce of approximately 11 million, of which about 1 million are in management. We are tiny. So, we simply must become more collaborative if we are to compete with the billions of managers and workers around the world. We need teams that a fit to play a global game.

We know that work is increasingly being done by teams. We also know that, with some encouragement from Covid, we are now working in all sorts of hybrid and remote environments. Yet, somewhat ironically, our work, in its relatively raw or undeveloped state, is being seen by more people and those people are often contributing to our work as well. As you might expect, this can go delightfully well or horribly wrong.

It should come as no surprise that understanding the stakeholders in a project, and having the tools to effectively engage with them, is an increasingly important part of the way we will work tomorrow.

There are some processes we can use to manage stakeholders, and there are also some softer tools we can use, but these require emotional intelligence (EQ).

A stakeholder is anyone with an interest in the outcome of your project. This includes the people you report to, those who are in your team, external parties such as suppliers and specialists, as well as your customers and any groups that your project may influence. The potential for anarchy is high!

And anarchy is often exactly what results from an ill-prepared stakeholder management strategy. It certainly doesn’t need to be this way. Rather, you can achieve a superior result because of a sound stakeholder strategy.

There is a handy framework to help us

Let’s start with the process. There are various frameworks available but one that is tried and tested is known as RACI, and it stands for responsible, accountable, consulted and informed. It is a handy guide to who’s who in a stakeholder management plan.

Using RACI, all parties will clearly know who is responsible for successfully completing the project, will know where the chain of accountability is and who has final authority over the project. And you will also be able to identify who has subject matter or other expertise that should be consulted. And, finally, you will know who else may have an interest and should be informed of developments.

If you’re feeling confident and want to add another layer of sophistication, you can add an ‘S’ to the framework to get RASCI. The ‘S’ is for support, which could be about management resources or even a mentor.

Emotional intelligence powers effective stakeholder management

The framework comes to life when you add a mixture of soft skills and bring emotional intelligence to the relationships with stakeholders. We are talking about trust, dialogue, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. We want a level of collaboration that sees key stakeholders put some real skin in the game. Just like we do in sport.

You will know when you have achieved real collaboration. All the hard metrics like time, cost and quality will be tracking well and those involved will exhibit esprit de corps, they will be proud of the team’s work, and they will go the extra mile because they believe in the project.

There is now a good body of research that shows how important emotional intelligence is to project success. In one 2017 study of projects valued at over $500 million, it was found that the greatest influence upon ‘successful project management’, including stakeholder management, resulted from four EQ competencies:

  • Organisational awareness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Emotional self-control

The workplace has become more complex. Today, much more thinking is required by individuals and teams since the output is less and less likely to be a linear, industrial product. And younger generations have entirely new perspectives on what they expect from an organisation, and what they are prepared to do in exchanging their time and talent for an income and other rewards. There has never been a more important time to be a good listener.

Diversity is a powerful force in team performance, and homogeneity is a hazard. Becoming highly competent stakeholder managers offers a new source of advantage for many organisations as these skills enable effective collaboration between diverse groups inside and outside the organisation, and this is exactly what is required in today’s complex environment. Diversity offers new ways to imagine how an organisation might be and what it might become. The imaginations of our stakeholders can help create opportunities that we may not have imagined ourselves.

Lidia Ranieri, April 2023

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