~ By Wilf Voge for ExecutiveBrief
If that carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick tactic seems useless to get commitment from your stakeholders, try these how-to's shared by experts.
Commitment is important in any relationship. It is the value that galvanises diverse entities so that all can work together unilaterally and seamlessly. Without it, there is no bond and no common purpose. Romantic, family or even business-wise, commitment is the force that drives the relationship forward, toward a mutually desirable goal that usually points to growth and/or profitability.
Securing commitment is difficult, more so if two parties do not see the carrot at the end of the stick. There are many barriers to securing commitment, and there are many levels of commitment that may not necessarily guarantee a carrot at the end of it, nor parties who will enjoy the rewards.
In business, one can never downplay the importance of stakeholder commitment. The meaning of "stakeholder" is crucial here. It is quite surprising to find multiple meanings of stakeholders in business and in project management, but one catches attention. You may realise that one such definition you have hung on to, based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), could use a more compelling version. In as early as 1963, the Stanford Research Institute defined stakeholders as
those groups without whose support the organisation will cease to exist. The core concept, in other words, was "survival;" without the support of such key groups, the firm will not survive.
As management guru Stephen Covey succinctly puts it,
Your organisation is a complex ecosystem of multiple, interdependent parts both inside and outside its formal boundaries, and your stakeholders are its most important elements.
Considering this, and some organisation's reactions to simply ignore stakeholders because managing them is just "too hard," means, "suicide." The concrete messiness of managing stakeholder commitment has to be accepted as an issue critical to success, even if it is not as sexy as defining the perfect solution or building the new [office] intranet.
The process of building total stakeholder commitment is challenging. Stakeholders have needs in conflict: employees want more pay, shareholders want higher dividends, and customers want lower prices and higher service levels. It is difficult for any one stakeholder group, even departments within the same organisation, to appreciate or understand each other's needs and how they must all work together to maximise the long-term benefit for all.
Across all organisations and projects, securing stakeholder commitment has its lofty rewards:
How does one go about securing stakeholder commitment? One has to first define who the stakeholders are. Each organisation has an array of stakeholders lined up, the PMBOK has a ready list, project manager, customer, performing organisation, project team members, and sponsors. Generally, they are groups or individuals who have a stake in the success or failure of the project as a whole. Not just funders, they also include parties who are in contact with the project for example, audiences, competitors, and project employees.
They can also be grouped according to roles. There are five key roles that a stakeholder can play:
Listing and grouping the stakeholders is not enough to define who they are. It would help (and would be interesting) to determine their typology as well. This could help in "separating the chaff from the wheat," as the typology exercise would clearly let you know who among the stakeholders could create real and lasting impact. Given the probable time and budget crunch, these are the types of stakeholders (and their interests) who can and need to be prioritised. They are the ones who have all three critical attributes, namely, power, legitimacy and urgency. This type of stakeholder can be plotted in Figure 1 as the Definitive Stakeholder (Item 7 intersecting all parts of the diagram).
In securing stakeholder commitment, one may need to undergo some form of hand-holding across what we call a "Commitment Curve" (see Figure 2). The Commitment Curve simply tells us that it would be best to instill awareness, build understanding, and create buy-in before commitment can be secured from stakeholders. Interestingly, there are also pitfalls represented in the diagram that need to be avoided as these will cause stakeholders to break away from the goal.
Keeping stakeholders committed also has its challenges as each stakeholder can experience difficulties at different stages [of commitment]. Fortunately, there are tips and advice offered by experts in sustaining stakeholder commitment:
Wilf Voge is Account Executive at SoftServe, Inc., a leading multinational software development and consulting company, with US headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida, and European headquarters in Lviv, Ukraine. Wilf is a seasoned professional with extensive experience in business management, consulting, sales, and marketing. Wilf Voge earned his PhD in Germanic Linguistics at UC Berkeley and his BA in German language from Brigham Young University. Previously an academic at the University of California, and a Fullbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Ukraine, Mr. Voge has been working in sales and marketing, representing SoftServe, Inc. in California, since 2001.
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