Applied EQ #49: Managing Stakeholder Relationships – Part 2 of 3

The previous post was about how project managers can apply emotional intelligence to relationships, and in particular, how to manage stakeholder relationships.  We introduced the first two of four steps to be used to manage stakeholder relationships.  In this post, we are going to look at the third step, Use Analysis to develop relationship strategies.

#3 Use Analysis to Develop Relationships Strategies

The analysis we did in step #2 provides the basis for us to develop strategies for the relationship.  We should identify areas where we have emotional connections to the stakeholder, explore relationship strategies we can employ, and then develop action steps that will help us to reach those strategies.

Emotional Connections – An emotional connection is an opportunity for us to make a heart to heart connection with the other person.  What are the topics, objectives, common interests or other areas where we are likely to make a heart to heart connection with this other individual?  These could be personal or professional interests.  Personal interests could include having children of about the same age.  You might also share a passion for boating or a love of fly-fishing in Colorado. 

As an example, on a recent project I shared an interest in marathon running with the CEO of the company.  I was able to connect with him about running and he was happy to share with me some of his triumphs and tips about running marathons.

Professional interests include excelling in the profession, membership in a professional organization, advancement in the current position, desire to network more and a myriad of others.  Think about those areas where you can connect.

Relationship Strategies – This is an area where we develop strategies for building the relationship with that stakeholder.  Given what we know about them, what strategies can we pursue to build the relationship?   How can we show that we understand their objectives for the project and that we will treat those objectives with importance?

Here are some examples of relationship strategies:

  1. Influence Strategy.  In this area, we want to think about how best to communicate with this stakeholder.  This is closely related to the communication plan.  We need to think about how we are going to reach them, how frequently, and what types of messages.
  2. Work with the Staff. In many organizations, the administrative staff works as gatekeepers to the executive team.  If your stakeholder is guarded by an administrator, you may to work through them to get in front of the stakeholder. 

    There will be other cases where a key stakeholder will be happy if one of his key managers is happy.  By extension then we might need to closely manage that key manager in order to keep the stakeholder happy.

  3. Keep your Friends Close.  In the Godfather, Don Corleone advises his son to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer".  When you have stakeholders who are neutral or negative toward the project, you cannot afford to ignore them or distance yourself from them.  You need to do your best to keep them close. Even if they are negative toward the goals of the project, you can build trust and respect with them as a person.
  4. Delegate Responsibility for the Relationship.  There will be times when we cannot spend time nurturing stakeholder relationships personally and we need to ask for help.  We can delegate responsibility for stakeholder relationship management to members of our team.  As an example, I recently lead a large project with a client in another country.  In addition to being far apart geographically, we were also separated by eight time zones.  Since I was unable to get much face time with this client, I delegated responsibility for the relationship to one of the project managers that worked for me and was in the country with the client.  Though not a perfect strategy, it worked better than my efforts to directly manage the relationship remotely.
  5. Pursue the Relationship Outside Work.  With some relationships, it will be easier to build connections outside the workplace.  This could include attendance at professional organizations, attending sporting events together, or golfing together. 

Action Steps to Nurture the Relationship – In this area we document the specific steps we are going to take to build relationships with each of the stakeholder.  This could be as simple as planning a series of meetings, writing a single or set of reports, or setting recurring lunch appointments.  It could be as extensive as learning more about the policies and objectives of a particular lobbying group or attending a meeting of a professional organization.  Here are some examples of action steps:

  1. Regular one-on-one meetings.  One of my favorite techniques for managing project team members as well as other stakeholders is the regular one on one meeting.  By establishing a set time and having the meeting on a regular basis, you can stay in touch with and up to date on your stakeholder. Set a meeting length and frequency appropriate to the relationship.  Some will require a monthly meeting of 30 minutes; others could be weekly for an hour. 
  2. Customized Project Briefing Reports.  Consider drafting project briefing reports which are targeted status reports for key stakeholders.  You can present the relevant information in a way that minimizes their time investment.
  3. After Hours Meetings.  Some stakeholders may be easier to connect with after hours.  I once worked for a program manager who frequented a pub every night after work with his key team members.  At the pub he was available informally and the conversation and information flowed freely.  It was as if he had open "office hours" every night and you just needed to show up to connect with him.  Whenever there was anything important to discuss I would do just that.
  4. Maintain an Action Log and Follow-Up Regularly.  For many stakeholders, it will be helpful to maintain a list of actions items and use that as the basis for following up with them.

You can use the following template to record all the information about the stakeholder and the relationship.  This template can be tailored to your specific needs by adding or subtracting to the sections to address the areas most important to you.  I do recommend that you exercise some caution if documenting this in a template; don’t leave the information lying around the office.  The information could be sensitive. Click here to download the template in MS Word

Stakeholder_management_tool_completed_v1

Does using a template to strategically analyze a relationship this sound stiff, unnatural, contrived, or manipulative?  Perhaps.  Can project managers succeed without doing this?  Certainly.  By now you all know that project management is anything but a science and there are more than 31 flavors when it comes to getting things done.  However, I don’t think all project managers are naturally good at relationships and I think it is important enough not to leave to chance.  An ad hoc approach to managing stakeholders just might work but who wants to take that risk?

Does this have to be done in the template?  No, in fact, this could be a small database you have on your PC or a simple contact management tool such as ACT!  MS Outlook could even be used to capture much of this information. 

There are a number of parallels between stakeholder relationship management and customer relationship management.  An entire category of CRM tools exist today to manage customer relationships.  In a project environment, each stakeholder could be thought of as a customer of the project.  Just like companies have adopted CRM applications for managing customer relationships, PMs need to treat relationships with stakeholders in the same way.

In our next post, we will talk about using steps one through three to perform step #4, Manage Stakeholder Relationships.

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