Working Successfully with Stakeholders
By: Reesa Abrams
Everyone has people in their life who are affected by the choices, success, and failures we experience. These are called, Stakeholders. The first Stakeholder in your life is you. After that you have your family / friends / mentors and advisors. There is often also a community surrounding you who has opinions also.
When you work with customers, no matter the size of the organization, they also have stakeholders making decisions regarding your proposals and services that affect how your customer will choose to interact with you or not.
What is interesting about today’s economic challenges is that they provide a new perspective on stakeholder relationships we can all learn
Additionally your company’s perspective can change in a moment when the right partnership occurs for you. Having successful stakeholder management strategies in place can often improve your leverage to success.
Here are some examples which cause that change.
Strategic Partner Solution Sales: Your organization worked hard to be accepted as a partner with one of the giants in your industry to co-market your product as a solution with theirs. Their first requirement of you is to build an effective partner education program to feed their sales force all the required knowledge and tools to enable blended solution sales in an efficient, seamless manner. These are your stakeholders. You are responsible for the blending of solutions plus the attraction and retention of their sales personnel’s mindshare. How will your company catch the attention of their sales force and hold it? You need a solution that is complementary to your budget and your company’s long-term strategies while meeting your partner’s goals. How do you know which resources are most important in what delivery form? A flexible training program, which allows you to deliver pilot programs and obtain feedback, provides you with the tools you require to deliver. You’re creating an environment that provides the tools for successful results, just in time, and nurtures partnership growth.
Market Management: A standards body issues certifications by software revision. First, vendor training and certification systems are required. Then, industry customer training in the business applications is needed for customer sales to support this standard. Customers need to know what aspects of their business require standards and what set of vendors offer products that might be suitable for them. Customers want to know what active certifications authorized vendors have when they propose solutions. Additionally, this standards body also desires partnerships with the global Education infrastructure to define basic knowledge courseware leading to expanding existing or new degree programs in Academia. An intelligent bridge between the Global Education infrastructure and product vendors training must be completed to provide seamless certification solutions for the customer base. Connecting all the relationships in an appropriate manner provides sustained competitive industry advantage for the standards body, keeping the community focused on their resources as the single point source to meet all their needs. Stakeholders requiring management include the vendor community, the customer community and the Education infrastructure.
Successful partnerships are about relationships. Business partnerships are based upon the potential for mutual self-interest with revenue as the metric for success. However, tactical relationships must be developed and continue over time to enable the required operations for mutual profit. These are relationships such as your partners’ sales teams and your certification system, partners’ sales and partners’ organization, partners’ organization and your organization, and most important partners’ sales and your customers. For your partners, the way you communicate with them is the basic nutrition of the relationship. If it is a one-shot-a-year visit that is all you will get from them in return, and no sustainable profits will occur. Mutually interdependent relationships are rich with incentive plans and training programs. Resources must be planned and spent strategically to develop and grow enabled relationships.
Working with your stakeholders, leveraging their resources, and integrating their requirements with yours are essential to securing a solution for your organization. Who are the stakeholders? How do you manage them to accomplish your goals? Stakeholders are those people who have reasons to care about the successful outcome of your program. Personal stakeholders start with you and your needs. However, you also have family, friends, mentors and advisors who support and leverage you in their lives. They have a stake in your success in some way. Business stakeholders are the relationships that you require to enable business program creation, implementation, operations, maintenance, and migration. They are the employees in your company, the vendor employees who are required to provide you the service that enables your program, the partner employees who will be trained and certified, and the customer employees who will manage and use your products.
How do my personal stakeholders affect my business? When you are passionate and focused on your professional direction you deliver better services. When your family and advisors support your efforts you are more focused on the business at hand. This is better than worrying in the background of your mind how you will solve some particular issue. Many of these suggestions in this paper are based upon sound life coaching principles.
A good relationship with your stakeholders provides personal support, budget leverage, business objective alignment, and a pool of resources available when you need their leverage. Working with internal corporate stakeholders effectively means being a corporate citizen. Rather than optimizing your program in a vacuum, you are optimizing it for the overall good of the corporation from the beginning. In defining the requirements for the product certification process, IDC lists working with stakeholders as the first requirement for defining successful certification programs, “Articulate the need for the program (including business drivers), and lay out the business case for each of the stakeholders…. without a clear understanding why the sponsoring organization is establishing the certification program, the program is unlikely to succeed.”
How do you manage business stakeholders successfully? First, know who they are and what control they have over your program. It is important to know if they just influence your program or if their decision is required for you to move forward successfully. Then create a relationship with them for mutual success. How can you support each other? It is about making the company successful overall. Set up regular communications and get to know each other’s business drivers, especially what delivery goals you have in common. Define what is required to make this project successful. Set up win/win programs leveraging resources. Create an ongoing communications link with your stakeholders where you can provide feedback to each other as you are progressing through your programs. Let them know how this program is going to enable their measurement objectives making them successful also. The questions in Table 1 give you a start in defining your corporate stakeholder team.
Who owns your input data? (Development and Marketing)
Who benefits from your success for their program success? (Sales, Services, Partners, Customers)
Who, representing corporate policies, has approval on your program? (Legal, IT, Archiving, HR, and Accounting)
How will this program make your management and executive team successful? (Management)
A bad relationship with your stakeholders often means increased stress and costs, risk of non-completion of business objectives, communications difficulties and lack of system compliance; among other negative results that no one wants to experience. How do you know you need to take action with your stakeholders? Table 2 has a list of hints that you are in trouble.
Your stakeholders do not support you in meetings or memos
Your management is becoming Teflon
Your vendors say that they cannot get cooperation from other employees in your company
You cannot get control over enough of your data to produce a successful program
IT is angry with you
You are not invited to key meetings or social events
People are asking you to produce numbers to back up your claims too early
Business partners are also stakeholders. Often companies do not understand that. Some companies still think of their partners as a leak to their competitors. A good relationship with your partners means that they regularly use the support tools that you have provided them and most of all focus their business goals on your business goals and products. They provide the revenue return on investment that was intended when the tools were implemented in the first place. It is not true, that if you build it, they will come. You have to meet your partners’ business needs also, and make it easy for them to include your processes in their daily business sales and programs. “Partners judge the value of the certification not solely on the rigor of the training, but on the time and energy that must be expended on attaining certification. Partners must compare the revenue lost while getting trained with the revenue gained in the future from having the certification… The rapid introduction of high quality eLearning offerings (both self paced and instructor led) is also contributing to the achievement of this goal” (IDC)
Identify stakeholders at the beginning of each project. What different organizations and individuals need to be supported? What is required by each different stakeholder type for them to bring in successful revenue or return on investment? Do you measure satisfaction regularly? How will you measure it differently now? What do your stakeholders complain about most? What collateral, training and processes enable them the most? Everyone ultimately expects your product / service to make them more successful selling / servicing your company’s products to their greater customer marketplace. Maintain a win/win relationship with your stakeholders and you will be successful.
Customers are the ultimate stakeholders. They purchase your products and services. Without them there is no reason to be in business. Customers have many of the same concerns as partners do. They want to know that their investment will be productive for them in a short-term measurable manner. They want to know that everything they need to know to be successful with your product / service is provided to them. Most importantly they want to know that they will be able to meet their business needs. Customer satisfaction needs to be measured regularly.
Being a good citizen with the stakeholders in your corporate community increases your program’s success rate
To assist you through the process of program development and improvement, a stakeholders’ tool is attached to this article designed to assist you in knowing who your stakeholders are and what questions need to be asked.
Abrams, R, “Leveraging Stakeholder Relationships”, NIIT Online Newsletter, 2004
Abrams, R; “5 Key Actions to Implementing Successful Partner Training Programs”; Technology Channels Group Online Newsletter, 2002
Abrams, R; “Managing Stakeholders For Successful Implementation of Partner Management Tools”, ChannelSuite Online Newsletter, 2003
This paper was written to support a speech that Reesa gave to the South Bay OD Network in San Jose, California in 2006.
About the Author
Reesa Abrams, Techno-Coach, supports organizations in their need to integrate across vertical boundaries to install enterprise technology, standard processes and metrics, and train their stakeholders on the new technology / processes / metrics so that the organization is successful in its evolution. Reesa has 35+ years experience working with customers to accept new technologies and processes and is certified in Total Quality Management and “Quality is Free” by the founders of the quality movement, A.E. Deming and P. Crosby. She is a certified Coach from the Hudson Institute of Coaching in Santa Barbara and a certified Systems Analyst from the American Management Association
Problems during operations, upgrade, or implementation of an enterprise-wide program often occur because key stakeholder relationships were not leveraged to obtain their required commitment. In these cases, the program is unable to achieve critical mass of resources for program success.
¨Use this chart to ensure that you are including all the stakeholders and their needs. For a copy send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
¨Remember that the way you approach and communicate with stakeholders will determine how willing they are to help you.