It’s funny how memory works. To make a complete list of all the projects in which I participated, I would have to look up documentation and emails, and I would surely leave some out the list. However, I clearly remember what I consider “failures” -those, of course, have also been there.
And if I think about them, I think they all have a common denominator: the lack of involvement or understanding of the specific needs of some stakeholders. I do not remember having been in projects that have failed for technical reasons, I think the technical problems are simply solved. We will take more or less time, with more or less anger from the client, but the technology (and less to this day) does not fail in a project. And I’m not talking about innovation or experimental projects, or to evaluate the use of a specific technology, in which the conclusion is that the technology is not appropriate at this time. I do not consider that a failure.
However, projects can fail when different groups of people in a project have different interests or needs that clash with each other. In my experience, for example, I refer to situations such as the following:
- Groups of people defending the current status quo who press at different levels so that the change does not pull ahead
- Organizations structured in silos where the interests of one department are not aligned, or directly are contrary, to the interests of another
- Lack of alignment between the short-term and detailed view of some people and the long-term and high-level vision of others
- Existence of winners and losers inside or outside the organization
- And a long etcetera…
I remember, many years ago, a project in which we developed a service management system for a fleet of trucks, with geolocation and communications via GPRS. In the time of the PDAs (prehistory of smartphones), we developed a tactile device to be installed in each truck. We did not take into account the people who had to use it (truck drivers with huge hands), nor the type of service (driving on dirt roads, not asphalted). We did not include them in the collection of requirements and in the design of the usability and the result was that the system, which worked perfectly in our offices, simply could not be used and they did not want to use it.
The role of stakeholders is critical, therefore, in any organizational change.
In this article I would like to delve into some key aspects to get a good stakeholder participation.
Patrick Mayfield in the Change Manager’s Handbook of the Change Management Institute, establishes seven principles for an adequate involvement of the interested parties, of which the first one seems the most conclusive and important:
You can forget about some stakeholders… but they will not forget you!
Indeed, you cannot decide who is going to be a stakeholder and who is not. Either they are or they are not, and our responsibility (as change managers) is to be able to correctly identify all those stakeholders. Some will be internal, others external, some will identify them as groups and others as specific individuals, but we can not forget anyone.
And the interests that stakeholders can have regarding the change can be very varied. According to the CPIG model of identification and segmentation of stakeholders, some are going to be “clients” (they will pay for or use the new products or services), other “suppliers” (they will provide people, materials, knowledge, expertise to make it possible instead ), there will also be “influencers” (people or groups that will condition or influence change), or “governance” (decision makers, those people who can make the most relevant decisions regarding change). Some will win with the change, others will come out clearly harmed in some sense, but all of them must be identified and we must look for the best way to involve them.
How many times, for example, not being able to adequately involve the operations and maintenance teams results in the change not being consolidated or the result not being sufficiently maintainable.
Although we will not always look for the same level of commitment. There will be more important stakeholders for a concrete change, and not all changes will require a total commitment on the part of the interested parties. According to Kelman, there are three levels of adoption: compliance, identification and internalization.
In the first, compliance, we only require that people do what they are told. The level of acceptance is, therefore, related to the actual commitment to what is being done. It is useful for the short term and, especially, for initiatives of low importance or impact. Surely you can get this behavior with rewards or punishments.
- The next one is identification. Here, we require that people understand why they are doing what they are doing, and the consequences of not changing. The level of commitment, therefore, is greater, we want you to want to change. We must work with these people to give meaning and meaning, purpose.
- The last level of adoption is internalization. We not only want you to understand the change, but to make it yours. That they can make their own decisions about what, why, when, and how things are done. The level of commitment is complete and long-term, and we achieve this through active participation and alignment with values.
The higher the level of adoption necessary, the more direct and bidirectional communication we will need. For this communication, let us consider another of Mayfield’s principles: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. We have two ears and one mouth, let’s listen twice as much as we talk. In other words, allow yourself to be surprised and allow yourself to change or modify your own ideas about change based on what you hear. Let’s not be like Groucho Marx in the wonderful scene of “Duck Soup” in which they end up declaring war because of a misunderstanding provoked by preconceived ideas about the other.
On the other hand, achieving this is not only in the hands of change managers. Another principle of Mayfield is that The participation of some stakeholders is achieved through other stakeholders.
Rogers‘ innovation curve is surely applicable to any type of change.
We are going to have to focus our efforts at the beginning on identifying those Early adopters who can help us convince, involve and engage others (through trainings, pilots, work groups). Another derivative of the innovation curve is that, from a certain point, between the precocious majority and the late majority, we will not have to make much more effort since the force of the majority will drag the rest.
In addition, and according to another principle of Mayfield, The demonstration prevails over the argument. Let’s look for short results, even if the change is ambitious and long. The early results (quickwins, even pilots, models, prototypes, models…) will convince and mobilize more interested parties than many arguments, however solid they may be.
Finally, to finish this article, although the subject gives many more articles, some final ideas on how to improve stakeholder participation. Let’s not forget that those interested are people and that to get a good involvement we must work our personal and social skills. Here are some final tips:
- Always consider the “What’s in it for me?” That is to say, we will not convince with the global benefits that the change will bring to the organization, but with the specific impact that the change has for that interested party and how we can increase the practicality or reduce the negative impact.
- Establish personal relationships with them (although it is not always possible, obviously), and I do not mean playing paddle, not even having a beer after work, but first knowing them, and being able to have a conversation with them that is not about topics of work.
- Follow the AIDA model in communication: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. Do not ask for action without first having worked on awareness, interest and desire for change.
- Prioritize two-way communication (meeting, or video conference) the more participation and commitment we want.
- Honor the past. Although we are changing, it does not mean that everything is wrong. Many of the people who go through the change have links and connections with the past, and we have to respect it.
- Understand and respect the ‘psychological contract‘. Beyond the written contract, we understand the psychological contract as the perceptions established by the two parties (employee and employer) regarding their mutual obligations. Thoughts like “if I work many hours, the organization will recognize me” are part of that contract that when not respected, can cause disaffection or even resistance to any change.
- Always communicate. Do not wait to have all the information. Communication serves to maintain tension regarding change and to generate participation. Lack of communication fuels rumors, corridor conversations or just fears and mystery. Communication is as valid when certainty is given as when we have uncertainty. If there is uncertainty regarding the product, we can provide certainty regarding the process (for example, “in a month we will decide…”)