You have certainly heard about stakeholder management as the discipline of engaging with people that can affect the program or could be affected y the program, as well as maintaining good relationship with them. A discipline present everywhere that it is commonly set aside in some steps of the lifecycle of the program, but probably the most important pillar of project and program management.

Stakeholders management is not only about contacting stakeholders when needed. It is about effectively persuading the right people to continuously keep their involvement in the program. Why is so important? The main reason that you should never forget is that every program you work on needs input from other stakeholders and you will depend on some of them for information, support, resources and investment.

Therefore, the ability to positively influence stakeholders has become a vital competency for managers, particularly when it comes to ensuring the success of big strategic initiatives.

As an example, in the client, the Global Data Integrity (DI) Program is a worldwide strategic initiative launched in 2016 with the objective of complying with the data integrity principles established by the main regulation authorities to ensure the patient’s life, as well as the product´s quality. 11 sites around the world to be simultaneously managed to reach a successful implementation of the program by 2022.

The success of the Global DI Program is based on the continuous communication with all the sites around the world and loads of stakeholders with varying levels of influence over the program, for example, among them, the executive leadership of the company. So, communicating with each one in the right manner is a vital part in keeping them on board, as well as increasing the success of the program.

As it happens in this program, the rise of geographically dispersed teams is an added complication. Persuading peers to support a global initiative becomes much harder when you need to establish virtual relationships, with people you may never have met.

Then, one of the most relevant skills every consultant should develop is stakeholder management. In the framework of a program, it is common to think that decreasing the frequency of communication with the stakeholders will allow you to reach program´s objectives more quickly. But the reality is that the chances of success will be greatly reduced. In addition, the fact that in projects and programs communication represents 90% of the time, stakeholder management becomes the discipline whose proper management guarantees almost all the success of the program. So, consultants that invest in this powerful skill to positively influence others will certainly find it easier to achieve the program´s objectives on the long term.

Then, what are the influencing skills and techniques that every consultant need to rise to the challenge of successfully managing a program?

1. Identify key stakeholders

First of all, work out who the key stakeholders for your program are likely to be. Once identified, list all of them and assess the relative importance of each stakeholder to define a weighted hierarchy against the program requirements. This assessment should be based on the perceptions of all the team. Make sure you included not only the ones who will be supportive and the ones who will show resistance, but also the influencers who can open doors or give you access to the data you need to support each phase of the program. 

2. Develop a strategic approach and align objectives

Global programs in big companies are composed of a whole range of individuals with different needs. In these situations, it is hardly surprising that when you try to meet the diverse objectives of the stakeholders, it is truly difficult to find the right solution that satisfies the goals of most of those individuals from obstructing the program.

In order to establish a strategic approach for stakeholder management, it is essential that everyone in the program team takes responsibility for making sure all the right people are consulted, informed and involved to whatever degree and frequency are appropriate. The goal is to keep the stakeholders engaged and supportive without overloading them. So, correct program governance requires to clarify stakeholder engagement roles and responsibilities and what is expected from people involved in the project.

Finally, program´s success means different things to different stakeholders, so aligning and agreeing what will be the objectives and success perception related to the program will be vital. And, if changes concerning the main objectives of the program occur during the execution, think about how those changes will affect the stakeholders and be totally transparent with them.

3. Aim for a win-win situation

The program will more likely achieve a successful outcome if you can deliver mutual benefit. Trying to identify how stakeholders can benefit from the execution of the program and taking into account their proposals and needs, will increase people engagement and will allow to establish a win-win relationship.

4. Stakeholders as part of the risk of the program

The expectations of stakeholders represent significant risk to a program. Besides, since stakeholders are humans and humans do not always behave in a rational and consistent way, each stakeholder will try to influence the program with the aim to meet their own requirements.  This fact translates into increased pressure from stakeholders in the different phases of the program that will generate change and change increases the complexity of program´s management. So, stakeholders are relevant influential resources and should always be treated as potential sources of risk.

5. Lead by example

It’s difficult to ask people to believe in something they can see you do not believe in. Show them that you are willing to do what is necessary for the success of the program, as well as for helping them to reach local objectives in the framework of the program and they will start believing in you.

6. Build trust

Where there is trust, stakeholders work more effectively. And influencing cannot occur without trust. So, investing time and effort in building stakeholder relationship and trust can facilitate decision-making process and minimize uncertainty. Also, be transparent about every decision that have an impact in the program and invest on the development of key stakeholders to ensure continuous involvement through the organization of workshop, trainings, etc. This way, they will be more likely to follow your advice during the lifecycle of the program.

7. Keep stakeholders involved

If stakeholders are not involved in the development of the program, then the project is unlikely to deliver optimum value for all involved. So, ask for their input and involved them in decisions.

To conclude, programs do not exist in isolation and are always subject to stakeholders´ influences. Since people management and communication in international programs is becoming one of the most difficult aspect to manage, for the development of long terms strategies in an organization applying active stakeholder management will be essential.