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This Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies will Power You up

Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

Stakeholder engagement and management is one of the essential Project Management disciplines. But it is often taught in a simplistic manner. The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies can easily leave newer project managers believing there are just four basic strategies they can use.

But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many stakeholder engagement strategies you can choose from. And you can apply each of these with a wide range of tactics and approaches to suit your situation.

But, if you don’t know the full range of strategies, you’ll find yourself responding in too coarse-grained a way. So in this article, we’ll delve deeply into the full range of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies.

PMI Talent Triangle - Strategic & Business Management

Let’s Set the Scene for Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

Stakeholder Engagement StrategiesThere are two things we need to cover before we look at our set of stakeholder engagement strategies. These will catch up less-experienced project managemers, who are not as familiar with the subject as others.

If you read the opening paragraphs and were not completely sure what we meant by:

  • Stakeholder engagement and management, or
  • The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies

…then read on. If you know what these two mean, then do jump to the next big heading.

What are Stakeholder Engagement and Management?

‘… and what is the difference?’ we could ask, too.

Let’s start with a short video.

A Summary of the Stakeholder Engagement Process

In the video, I show a simple diagram of the five-step stakeholder engagement process. To make it easier for you to review it, here it is again.

Stakeholder Engagement Process - Identify, Analyse, Plan, Act, Review

Stakeholder Engagement Process – Identify, Analyse, Plan, Act, Review

So, Stakeholder Engagement, or Stakeholder Management?

As this video, says, Stakeholder Engagement is a more respectful – and more modern – term for what we used to call Stakeholder Management. And the PMI is following along too. It has partially adopted the term in its latest version, the 6th Edition, of its Project Management Body of Knowledge: the PMBoK.

But, if a I have a criticism, it is that it has still retained the label Project Stakeholder Management for the overall Knowledge Area. And, I cannot help thinking that there is a simple (and foolish) reason for this. Every other knowledge area is titled as Project ‘this’ Management or Project ‘that’ Management. So, it feels to me like they put the pattern above good sense. But that’s just my opinion.

PMI Talent Triangle - Strategic & Business Management

Now we’ve reviewed the meaning of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, let’s take a look at the other thing I mentioned in my opening paragraph…

The Standard ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

There are lots of variants on this, but the standard approach to charting stakeholders plots them on two axes:

  1. The level of interest they have in your project and the changes it will create
  2. The amount of power they have to influence things

Rating each of these as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ yields the most commonly used stakeholder analysis chart.

The 'Standard' Stakeholder Map is the most commonly used tool for stakeholder analysis

A you can see, this analysis yields four stakeholder engagement strategies:

  1. Monitor
  2. Consult
  3. Inform
  4. Work together

If you have ever followed any of my training, or read some of my articles, you’ll know I favor a slightly different four-box triage approach.

Stakeholder Triage tool for the first stage of stakeholder analysis

…but the effect is still the same. A poverty of strategies.

This is as it should be…

And the reason why these charts give us so few strategic options is because they should never be used as your only stakeholder analysis tool. They are solely designed as a triage process – a quick sorting to give you prioritization and an early indication of the ‘kind of strategy’ you’ll need.

It’s Time to Power-up

For small projects, I’ll agree that this might be enough. But otherwise, you’ll need to go further. And that’s why I want to introduce you to a far larger set of strategies. This will really power-up your project stakeholder engagement.

Strategic Postures: From Adversarial to Supportive

The secret to a good strategy – in any context – is to ask the right questions.

And the first question to ask, when you want to choose your stakeholder engagement strategy, is:

What is the appropriate posture? From:

  • asserting our preferences,
    to
  • accommodating theirs

Let’s take a look at what this looks like.

Focus on Stakeholders

The supportive end of this spectrum of stakeholder engagement strategies will focus on the stakeholder’s own needs and preferences. I’ll illustrate with three gradations, starting with the most accommodating of their needs.

  1. Accommodating
    You are prepared to make substantial concessions to the stakeholder, to help you achieve your primary intentions
  2. Collaborating
    You are prepared to work together with the stakeholder, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  3. Consulting
    You are prepared to consult and respect your stakeholder’s opinions. You are open to compromise that meets some of their needs.

Neutral Posture

This is an even-handed strategy where you balance your needs against those of your stakeholder.

  1. Informing
    You are open to a full sharing of information, and balanced compromise.

Focus on the Project’s Objectives

At this end of the spectrum, we have stakeholder engagement strategies that favor your project. I’ll illustrate these with three examples that move from a gentle pushing forward of your preferred position, to the most adversarial advocacy and asserting of your preferences.

  1. Promotional
    Use of promotional or persuasive tactics, to influence your stakeholders in a positive way, to endorse your project point of view.
  2. Defensive
    Resisting compromise and providing strong counter-arguments to your stakeholder’s point of view.
  3. Assertive
    Prepared to fight hard to optimize your project’s position. The extent of your tactics must be constrained by by ethics, good practice, and the need for a good long-term relationship with your stakeholder.

Strategic Engagement: From Withdrawal to Involvement

The second question you need to ask, to determine your stakeholder engagement strategy is:

To what extent do we wish to engage with this stakeholder? From

  • Active avoidance
    to
  • Active engagement

We can illustrate the spectrum here with these seven levels:

  1. Active avoidance
    This will be appropriate where you are either not ready to engage, or there are positive reasons for non-engagemnt. These will usually be dangers, like:

    1. a risk of divulging confidential information, or
    2. a stakeholder that is to angry and poses a treat
  2. Passive engagement
    Here, you do nothing active to engage. You simply keep an eye on the situation, with a vew to shifting level if you need to.
  3. Minimal engagement
    This is a purely reactive stance, responding to events and to your stakeholder.
  4. Low engagement
    Now you are engaging actively, but with the minimal effort. Examples include information-sharing and active review of your relationship.
  5. Active engagement
    Building a dialogue with your stakeholder, so you understand one-another better.
  6. Positive engagement
    Working hard to further your strategic stakeholder engagement posture.
  7. Full engagement
    Going all-out to get the result you want, with this stakeholder.

The Full Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

If we put the two dimensions of strategic posture and strategic engagement together, we get the full set of stakeholder engagement strategies. The diagram illustrates this with simple labels for each level. However, you are best focusing on this as two spectra, and designing your strategic approach from an understanding where you it on each.

Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

What is Your Experience of Selecting and Implementing Different Stakeholder Engagement Strategies?

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experiences, your ideas, and your questions. Put your comments below and we’ll respond to any contributions you make.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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  • Rob Young says:

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on monitoring stakeholders’ availability and input vs their perceived level of interest/availability/influence. How often to we do a stakeholder assessment and engagement plan only to find that our partners are really not as available to contribute to the process as they should be (for whatever reason, an incorrect assessment on our part, change in priorities or other less well defined reasons)

    • Mike Clayton says:

      Rob, I think you are quite right. To us as project managers, we are totally focused on our project. So there is a tendency to implicitly assume everyone else will be. But, surprise-surprise; our stakeholders have other things on their minds!

      Sometimes it’s our task to raise their level of concern for our project, because we know that either:
      – it is important to them (even if they don’t yet know it), or
      – we really need their input, ideas, or support.
      In this case, monitoring their availability, and selecting the best times and manner to engage them is vital.

      However, we must also acknowledge that, sometimes, our stakeholder doesn’t have as much interest as we expected. And the best thing to o is adopt a softly-softly approach and respect their other priorities. If we try to force our project upon them, they will likely react against it – or us!

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