Understand how your Stakeholders will react to this change

What else are they coping with?

An apparently small change can be met with an explosive reaction if the person or group is already coping with multiple change and has no capacity to absorb more.So before you charge ahead with implementing the changes you are initiating, find out what other changes they are coping with, and are about to be confronted with. If your Business has a Project-Portfolio, interrogate it, as well as asking your Sponsor, Senior Leaders and Stakeholders.

Although you cannot question them on their private lives, remain alert to any information they provide about changes they are coping with at home, whether they see this positive (e.g. a new baby) or negative (daughter has left home). Both will take their share of the person's capacity to deal with changes.

What's in it for me?

Any change, however small, will be weighed up by each Stakeholder in terms of “What's in it for me?” and “What do I stand to lose?” The “What's in it for me?” question is a legitimate and important question to ask and have answered. With most changes there is likely to be a mix of actual and perceived gains and losses.

Your communication and involvement activities need to help your Stakeholders make an honest and realistic appraisal of how the changes will affect them. Fail to do this and you will increase the gap between expectations and reality and set yourself up for greater resistance

A Stakeholder who assumes it is all gain and discovers some losses late into the project may become your worst nightmare.

Even changes that people intellectually agree with, and where benefits appear obvious, will still come with a personal loss and gain account. Take for example the introduction of the Project-Change Frame®, a common approach to managing projects.

The perceived gains could be:

  • I can focus on the content as the process is already in place
  • I have easy access to support and training
  • I have lots of tips and guidelines

On the loss side:

  • My performance will be more visible to others so it will be harder to cover up errors and performance issues
  • I could be challenged more
  • The expectations for future project teams could be higher

With your project team try to step into the shoes of each Stakeholder and generate the potential losses and gains that this person or group may perceive and experience. This information will enable you to develop more empathic and effective communications. Even better, run a stakeholder workout session and get them to inform you direct.

Stakeholder influence and attitude

Two key questions are:

  • How influential could each Stakeholder be in either undermining or promoting your project
  • What is their current attitude towards the project?
The Stakeholder Status Grid captures an assessment of the influence and attitude of each Stakeholder towards the project at the point of review.

Influence may result from the person's formal position of authority or from their personal status and relationships with the business.

Attitude towards the project can range from negative through to neutral and on to positive

Do not assume that the Stakeholder's attitude and influence will remain unchanged for the duration of the project. In fact you will be looking to create shifts in both as a consequence of how you manage them and the project. So date each grid created and undertake periodic reviews.

The assessment can be carried out by the team or with the Stakeholders themselves. Involving Stakeholders can be very powerful if it results in an active debate with Stakeholders on what it would take to keep them in a positive part of the grid or more them towards the positive.

This information is invaluable in:

  • Forcing the project team to acknowledge and consider the feelings and power structure at work.
  • Highlighting where the team's efforts and attention should be directed
  • Identifying Stakeholder risks - those Stakeholders who could undermine the project
  • Identifying Stakeholder opportunities - those Stakeholders who could play a key role in promoting the project

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