Why Stakeholder Management is not a Science

By Larvin Rengasamy & Azlin Niza Ismail

“The idea here is to ensure focus to provide stakeholders with an appreciation of our presence.”

Through the course of PEMANDU Associates’ involvement in the implementation of three government transformation programmes – in Malaysia, Tanzania and the Sultanate of Oman, we have found stakeholder management to be an empathetic art as opposed to a science.

Our experience in each programme we have been involved in illustrate two stages of stakeholder management: knowing who our stakeholders are and earning their trust to deliver. This means we stay true to our Big Fast Results methodology and deliver quality under pressure.

Know Your Stakeholders

To begin with, we map our stakeholders to identify who will be leading and directly involved in the transformation agenda. However, it is not as simple as just constructing a who’s who – it also requires an understanding of stakeholder needs as well as their strengths and weaknesses in relation to the transformation at hand. Without constructing our stakeholder map and identifying their priority areas, we would not gain the commitment and engagement required to deliver 3 feet plans to implement transformation!

This exercise also helps us understand our stakeholders and overcome resistance to the introduction of new norms at the start of transformation. The team at PEMANDU Associates will work with our clients to share WHY this is important and HOW we can collectively drive transformation.

The answer may vary from client to client and may also be actioned differently. It can be formed as a simple text message to the group to nurture communication, or a detailed email to determine progress. This is done to assure that the work is being monitored.

In all our projects, we typically conduct an on-boarding session with all stakeholders. This ensures expectations in terms of working norms, routines and discipline of action are managed from the start. Coaching is another useful way to manage stakeholders’ expectations and gain their cooperation.

Communication Is Key

The second component and equally vital in stakeholder management is establishing a method of communication within the work environment. This ensures that each stakeholder, with their diverse backgrounds, knowledge and views, is able to clearly see how information is shared and established for discussion. To do this, it will be necessary to leverage stakeholder relationships and build coalitions that foster the success of the project.

At PEMANDU Associates, we have structured and adopted our Big Fast Results methodology, consisting of our 6 Secrets of Transformational Leadership and 8 Steps of Transformation. A component of this methodology comprises and promotes a clear governance structure for the escalation of issues, weekly problem-solving meetings and reporting as well as a monthly Steering Committee meeting. This is in addition to ongoing information-sharing at the working level on a daily basis.

The inability to manage stakeholders appropriately may be indicated by missed deadlines, the expansion of work beyond the agreed scope, confusion, conflict and stakeholders’ loss of interest in participating in the transformation programme. Often, this is indicative of competing priorities, a lack of focus or a lack of commitment.

In discussing these issues with project managers, we have to ask two questions and establish a rule:

1) What is the communications plan (how is information shared)?
2) What is the project governance structure (how do people assimilate, make decisions and escalate issues)?

It should be ensured that no one is penalised for sharing their opinions or views. Only when this is agreed upon as a norm can the stakeholders “trust us” to be doing the right thing.

“We consider stakeholder management as an empathetic art because polarities are bound to persist between groups of people.”

We consider stakeholder management as an empathetic art because polarities are bound to persist between groups of people. This is where we must begin to understand and refine the lines of when we may or can be amenable and assertive or firm.

Managing multiple stakeholders with different backgrounds and expectations is always a challenge, but one that should be moderated to achieve consequential benefits for all parties involved. The focus should be centred on providing stakeholders an appreciation of our presence and to ensure they perform their roles as expected; delivering our expected output as scheduled and achieving acceptance of the transformation programme.