Guide to Conquering Difficult Stakeholders
Updated: Sep 10, 2022
I’m going to summarise a useful but lengthy article about stakeholders. For the sake of this newsletter, I will skip the part about why stakeholder management is important. Also to avoid overcomplicating what the definition of “difficult stakeholder” is, let's focus on four common trends found in “difficult stakeholders”.
Only Critical/Rude Feedback
They Don't Share the Same Sense of Urgency
Premature Resources / Lack of Co-Operation
Here are some useful tips:
1. Dont burn bridges.
“difficult stakeholder wants us to succeed the way they express this desire may change over the course of the hiring period. One day they'll support you, and the next day they'll argue if work isn't done a particular way. But they're not "switching sides" — their side is project success. It's not you vs. them.“
2.a Think of stakeholders and rank them into three categories:
People directly affected by the work. Primary stakeholders are usually projecting beneficiaries. Customers often fall into this category.
People indirectly affected by the work. Secondary stakeholders include teams supporting the project and those impacted by its outcome.
People with a strong influence over the work and a vested interest in its success. This group includes executives.
2.b Now using the below 2x2 rank each stakeholder into one of these groups.
High-power, highly interested people — engage/manage closely
Who - These people have great interest in your work and the power to help you succeed. It's critical to fully engage these people and make sure they're satisfied.
What - Consult them before starting a new project/change, pay attention to their input and implement their ideas when possible. Keep them in the loop when someone else's ideas are chosen and let them know why.
High-power, less interested people — keep satisfied
Who - These people have little involvement or may have little vested interest in your work, but are very powerful.
What - Do your best to keep them satisfied, but don't take up too much of their time. Seek their insights around big decisions and make sure they understand how your work will positively affect them. These folks make powerful champions once you win them over.
Low-power, highly interested people — keep informed
Who - These people are passionate about the hiring and voice their support to others, but have little power or influence.
What - Keep them in the loop and inform them of any major developments. Your work may directly impact these people, so they are usually more than willing to roll up their sleeves and help you out.
Low-power, less interested people — monitor
Who - The most apathetic of the bunch, these people are the least affected by your work and should take up little time and attention.
What - Don't ruffle their feathers and they'll stay out of your way.
Use the above matrix to quickly identify your champions and potential detractors. But be advised: An active champion might become a roadblock overnight. Manage stakeholders and monitor their status review emails or comments to anticipate the tide turning. Keep communication channels open to head off any growing negativity.
3. Ask Yourself These Questions
What are their most pressing business needs?
What is the best way to communicate with them?
What information or details do they want or need?
Do they fully understand your work or do they need some extra explanation?
Who influences them?
Who do they influence?
What are they responsible for?
Who do they report to?
4. Meet them one on one
Schedule time to meet with difficult stakeholders individually. Meeting without other stakeholders in the room takes the pressure off and makes them feel more comfortable. This leads to more clear and calm conversations.
Take this time to explore their viewpoint and preferred solutions. However, don't blatantly ask why they don't like your plan. Instead, ask open-ended questions about their opinions and how they feel the hiring/project is progressing.
Managing stakeholders one-on-one also prevents their negative opinions from influencing others on the project. When feedback crosses the line from constructive to pure negativity, it's best to isolate the situation and handle it privately.
6. Keep people moving forward
Listen to your stakeholders and strive to meet their needs — difficult or not. Ensuring they're feeling heard, valued, and appreciated grows trust and support. Building relationships and understanding motivation takes time and effort but will make your job easier in the long run. Recruiting is more successful when everyone is on board and on the same page!