Building Stakeholder Relationships

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If I have learned one thing it is that “Relationships are Everything”. Over my years as a Project Management Professional, building a strong relationship with both internal and external stakeholders has been vital to the success of delivering a product or a service, and one that meets the organization’s objectives.

Stakeholders are the people and organizations whose attitude and actions have an impact on the success of your project or your company.  Successful relationships with them are built upon on respect, trust, and understanding of each other’s needs.

Respect for people and culture is a basic human need. When people are treated with respect, they are more empowered to provide their feedback and contribute to the team.

Trust is the foundation for all relationships and helps to strengthen the connection.  In order to build trust, all team members must be open to a new way of working together, be courageous, be respectful in dealing with each other and be committed to making it happen.

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Building positive working relationships with your stakeholders leads to successful project conclusions as well as opportunities for continued collaboration. Though building stakeholder relationships takes focused attention – you must start early, grow and nurture them. Here are 5 tips to assist you in building and maintaining your healthy stakeholder relationships.

5 Tips to Building Impactful Relationships with your stakeholders

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1. Research your Stakeholder

Research strengthens your overall understanding of the organization, its goals and helps you to learn your stakeholders’ true needs so you can plan to work effectively with them.

While you may be able to glean information about a key stakeholder from the team – “What’s she like to work with?” – in the absence of personal biases you could do a little internet digging.  LinkedIn and Google are great tools to browse for career information, blogs, and articles they may have written in addition to personal interest such as hobbies, travel interest, and sporting events.

The research gleaned here is to support a connection, commonly referred to as the “ice breaker”, not internet stalking. This is to merely to foster a connection and communicate with your stakeholder on a more personal level.  This shows genuine interest in establishing a relationship and helps to build trust. 

2. Interview your stakeholder

Investing time to understand your stakeholders needs, assess their impact to the project, and their priorities, leads to creating real value together in a shorter time frame.  It’s important to determine who has the power to define your project, affect its direction and who can help to move it forward.

For more information on assessment tools, read our Managing your Stakeholders article.

Start early and build your relationship with these influential decision makers. Keep in mind that the stakeholder may have a shared responsibility to support day to day operations and work on project related activities too. This is an opportunity to prioritize key initiatives and align with the stakeholder’s expectations.

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In the event key stakeholders have conflicting priorities or are unavailable, be sure to ask for a delegate, with the authority to make decisions, so that the project can continue without any delays.

3. Hold Face to Face Meetings

In a world of remote working, we need to strive to meet as close to in person as often as possible to build the best relationships.

F2F communications are more effective than written correspondence. In addition, F2F interactions allow you to learn your stakeholders tone, facial expressions and body language.

Professor Mehrabian of UCLA and founder of the “7%-38%-55% rule” that states up to 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal tones (38%), body language/gestures (55%) and actual words only 7%.

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Professor Albert Mehrabian, UCLA 7%-38%-55% Rule

Using virtual tools such as WebEx and skype to enable video conferencing allows us to bridge the gap while working apart.  An initial F2F meeting, even if over the internet, lays the ground work to build trust and respect as well as helps to facilitate communications for future emails, meetings and phone calls.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Effective communications ensure your stakeholders receive information that is relevant to their needs and builds a positive attitude towards your project or company.

Relationships take time.   Make sure you are setting aside time to nurture and build them. Susanne Madsen, from Liquid Planner recommends Pinpointing stakeholders with high levels of power and influence, selecting those 3 to 5 people who have the most positive impact on moving your project forward and focusing time on them.

Establish weekly 1 on 1 meetings or more frequent if applicable to share information, updates, address concerns and solicit feedback.  Always follow-up with meetings notes thanking the stakeholder for their time and include actions, next steps and the agreed go forward plan.  This provides an opportunity to establish rapport and helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Yet, don’t forget about your distributed or organizational stakeholders. Allow bandwidth in your relationship building for group communications as well, utilizing newsletters, emails and workplace chat functionality to ensure that all stakeholders are in the communication loop.

5. Be Open to Feedback

Finally, as stated in the beginning, successful relationships are built upon respect, trust and an understanding of each other’s needs.

Being open to suggestions and feedback from stakeholders will only strengthen your relationship as you communicate with them in a way that works for them.

In addition, key feedback can improve not only your relationship but your project’s risk management and mitigation strategy.

Remember to engage stakeholders as early as possible so they can contribute, feel involved in the decision-making process and know that their interest is being considered as part of the project success.

Stakeholders know the particulars of their business and have the insight to highlight potential risk or issues that the Scrum Master or Project Consultant may not be aware of, therefore reducing risk and negative influences on the project.

As you become more reliable in promising and delivering software, projects, and services that add value to the organization, you build in turn build additional trust with your stakeholder group.

As a result, your influence as a servant leader grows and increases their willingness to collaborate with you on current initiatives as well as future project opportunities.  And that’s something well worth nurturing.

This article was written by Robin Levy.

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