Bringing stakeholders along with us is one of the keys to a successful project. But to influence people, you first need to understand them. That goes the same for managing your stakeholders. The tools we use are called stakeholder mapping.
Stakeholder mapping is clustering stakeholders according to things they share. So, I want to discuss one way to do this. It’s based on your objective: to influence opinions.
How to Influence Stakeholders
If you want to influence, and even persuade, people, the first two steps are:
- Get your argument clear
- Research the people you want to influence: your colleagues, your customers, your audience, or your stakeholders.
Analyzing your stakeholders can be a time-consuming business. This is especially, so in a large and complex project. It’s likely that your:
- Arguments will be complicated
- Ideas will be controversial
- Agenda will be disruptive.
So, here are some simple but powerful questions that will help you map out stakeholder interests.
Ten Questions for Mapping Out Your Stakeholders
What do they want?
Arguably, this is your most important question. You need to understand the perceived needs of your different stakeholders.
This is never truer than with your project stakeholders. So, you need to set intelligent priorities about who you need to make concessions to, and where you’ll be prepared to disappoint someone.
How much do they care?
It’s an easy mistake to make. You’re so tied up in your project, that you think everyone cares as much as you do about your project. They don’t. Segment your stakeholders according to their level of interest.
Before trying to influence those who don’t are, you first need to spark their interest. Your communication must grab attention and offer a link to something your stakeholders care about.
What do they think they know already?
Notice this question is, “What do they think they know already.” Prejudices play a large part in how easily we can be persuaded. Confirmation bias makes it far easier to influence me when your argument conforms to what I already think I know. You must therefore start by creating a shared perspective on the world.
If you find stakeholders have a significant mis-perception, your priority will be to start to shift that, before you can do anything else. You’ll need to work at both the rational level (evidence and reason) and the emotional level (self-interest, curiosity, and desire) to do this. Sometimes you might even need to push back with stakeholders.
What do they care about?
Knowing what your audience cares about will allow you to predict their reactions and focus your arguments accordingly.
But, beware of the political dimension. They may often keep some parts of their agenda well-hidden. How familiar are these examples?
- the ambitious executive may be keen to make sure their family holiday is a success
- the machine operator may be doing a course that will prepare them for a new role
When you can find out these deeper, hidden agendas, you can understand, anticipate, and address the deeper concerns.
People mater more than ideas. So, a bonus tip is to also ask: “Who do they care about?”
How will they be affected?
Stakeholders will be affected by your project. That’s what makes them a stakeholder. So, your project will matter to them.
You need to ask: “What is their stake?” This is likely to be an important part of their thinking. And, once again, their perceptions may be different from reality. So, you need to be able to make a compelling demonstration of the real impacts.
What do they stand to lose?
Project Managers tend to be optimistic by nature. So, we often focus our arguments on what people have to gain.
But economist Richard Thaler’s research into loss aversion tells us that people will focus on what they have to lose. And, critically, the loss will have a far greater impact on their thinking and emotions than its objective size. So, you need to be ready to address what each stakeholder stands to lose.
Avoid any temptation to belittle stakeholders’ perceived losses; even if they are objectively very small. To them, what they stand to lose will always seem important.
How can we build?
When we promote change, we often focus on tearing down the past. Indeed, that’s what we learn from psychologist Kurt Lewin: the first step in creating change is “unfreezing” the past.
A powerful way to pre-empt loss aversion is to take a positive approach to what is there already and to build from the existing foundations. This also has the merit of allowing you to reinvest any sunk cost.
Too often, change agents like a blank canvas, a clean slate, or a green field. The prevalence of these metaphors belies the power of re-using what has already been developed.
And from a stakeholder perspective, this can be a real strength. It avoids a lot of resistance, because the past won’t be lost.
What is their impact?
One of the most important parts of your stakeholder mapping is to identify the impact a stakeholder can have on the success of your project. Keep it simple. High or low is often enough.
The impact that a stakeholder can have is a combination of two things:
- Their formal authority
- Their ability to influence others
At the top of the tree of influence are Apex Stakeholders. They can influence other stakeholders without being easily influenced themselves.
Make it your priority to find these people and bring them over to your point of view. Once you do, you will be able to use their influence as a lever to amplify your own.
What are their priorities?
We all have priorities that help us to make up our minds about anything in life. Get to know what things matter most for the people you want to persuade. This way, you can build your arguments to address each stakeholder’s individual priorities. Typical examples are:
What will persuade them?
Likewise, different things persuade each of us. And an effective project manager will need to pull the right strings, to make your stakeholder more likely to accept your argument.
- Do they want to feel your argument is really just their own point of view? Some people don’t like imposed ideas. So, you need to drip-feed the information, until they come to their own conclusions.
- Are they keen on innovation and feeling like a thought-leader? Some stakeholders are excited by ideas and will want you to articulate a grand vision. They will also be readily engaged by pictures, prototypes, and visits to reference sites.
- Do they value certainty? Some people need to see an established track record or a bunch of independent testimonials before you can convince them of anything. They are risk averse and need to feel safe in signing up to anything.
- Do they pay most attention to their intuition? Some stakeholders need to feel they can trust you, before they will engage with your ideas or arguments. For them, you need to spend plenty of time establishing yourself and your integrity, before they will grant you that trust.
- Are they focused only on the objective evidence? Sometimes the hardest stakeholders to persuade are those who need facts and figures, and a rigorous analysis. For them, you need to take your time, get every last number and word correct, and be prepared to deal with lots of questions of detail.
This is a whole additional way to map out stakeholder segments. But if you can do this, persuasion becomes far easier. Because when you tailor how you frame your argument, you’ll find they make their decisions far more readily.
Keep it Real
If you are like me, the moment you find a new model, you’re itching to implement it… fully. And you’re also tempted to try and expand on it. Here, I’ve offered you 10 ways to map out your stakeholders. And I dare say, you know of many more, too.
But time is a scarce luxury on projects. And your job, as a project manager, is not to do everything you could do. It is to select from that, the most useful tools for the project you have. So, pick three or four of the ideas above that seem most relevant for understanding and preparing to influence your stakeholders.
Do that analysis carefully, and build it into your stakeholder engagement planning process. Only if you find you aren’t making sufficient headway with one group of stakeholders would I advocate using more of these questions.
Once you’ve mapped your stakeholders, you’ll want to provide them with the project reporting that is most meaningful to them. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that gives the real-time data and customizes those reports to target your audience. See for yourself by taking this 30-day free trial.