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I've finally plucked up the courage to set-up an online blog. I'm going to endeavour to blog as often as possible to share my thoughts, to share some articles and news i find interesting, and also use it for my private reflections (you guys won't get to see that!). Also i hope people will read and comment on some of my posts.

The spur for deciding to set-up a blog has been my studies through the Open University. They encourage learning and reflection, and collaborating with others.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

No stakeholder left behind

The following is a summary/play by play/sneak peak of a working group discussion I’ll be holding at the Citizens Bank Lean Away Day on Friday 30th September:

Amongst all the hullabaloo that surrounds Lean methodology; that being the more efficient processes, increased utilization of employees, capacity creation, removing barrier to flow etc. We’ve lost sight of the essentials of managing change, and this becomes clearer each time I visit a transformation. We get caught up in being change leaders, we use the terminology of forward progress “drive towards” “take people on a journey”, we start to make lazy assumptions about those that show even the slightest resistance to the changes we are seeking to make. At our worst this comes off as arrogance, at its most subtle you might characterise it as an over zealousness and a visible lack of flexibility in our approach. The next challenges to us becoming better Lean Change agents is to simplify the language of what we do, but most importantly to re-focus our energies on forging better relationships with our key stakeholders.

When facing resistance to the changes we seek to make, we often brush them off casually claiming that “Bill isn’t showing good leadership behaviour” “Sally is not on board” “They just don’t get it”. These comments feed into what Thomas A. Harris calls the “Aint it awful game”- whereby excuses are offered up, responsibility is abdicated and others are encouraged to support the claim that nothing can be done to change this situation. These comments don’t allow us to reflect on some critical questions; What has caused Bill to behave in this way, What did we do to get Sally on board? And what strategies are we using to understand why “they don’t get it”. This is where a more analytical approach to stakeholders pays dividends.

I believer stakeholders can be explored along three dimensions; Personality, Politics and Power. The first dimension can be examined through understanding more about their personal preferences, of which there are many tools you can use; Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Colour Energies, NEO, Belbin, Strengthsfinder to name just a few. You can observe the behaviours of your key stakeholders and make educated guesses on their “types”, as getting them to complete a test or survey maybe over stepping your mandate. Understanding their personality better will help refine your communication, influencing, decision making and collaboration strategies that you hope to use to engage them in the transformation.

The second dimension is Politics, by which I mean history. A stakeholder I worked with previously was refusing to sign off any process changes, adopted a hostile attitude to running improvement workshops and would delight at embarrassing me in front of my boss by revealing new information I had not been privy too. Had I done my homework by looking into her history and that of her team, I would’ve realised that everything we were suggesting, she had already tried (and failed) to get done… 5 years ago. That frustration at having failed to get agreement from her seniors was fuelling her resentment of our change effort. Knowing this information (after much probing) I was able to draw her in by getting her to share her full wish list with me so that we could work on getting all of her previously rejected ideas implemented. Invoking history is a defensive tactic from a stakeholder, but ignoring or not appreciating that history falls into their carefully laid trap. This is especially true of high performing teams, or teams that already have a long history of adapting and improving; harnessing the narrative of “building upon past success” is more effective in engaging stakeholders, than all other methods I’ve tried!

The final aspect of understanding stakeholders is power; a dirty but all pervading word in business. Here the words of Winstanley (stakeholder power matrix, 1995) seem appropriate, essentially he advocates understanding whether the stakeholder has power over the success of individual tasks and initiatives in the transformation, or whether they have strategic power; the power to take your project in completely different direction.

Once you’ve got this clarity over who your stakeholders are (in more than just structure chart and title) you can conduct some very simple stakeholder analysis. How engaged are they on a scale of 1-5, 1 being actively disruptive and 5- being active advocate. Consider where you need them to be or would like them to be. Not everybody should be active advocates, mainly because they are time consuming, eating up more resources in keeping them appraised of the changes than you have available to make the changes! Once you’ve charted this, then attention needs to be paid to the WIIFM or “What’s in it for me”. Place yourself in their shoes, use the politics and personality research you’ve conducted to back up your assertions, and detail what agenda they have. Finally consider a range of strategies for how you will engage them; do they prefer email? Are they a morning person? How would you communicate a difficult message? How closely do you want them involved in the day to day activity of the team? What behaviours of theirs will you seek to challenge and how?

The final part of this puzzle is setting aside time to challenge your analysis, as and when new information about your stakeholder becomes available. Also challenge yourself to review the success of your chosen strategies, forcing yourself beyond the “aint it awful” games we play.

In conclusion, no stakeholder should be left behind, they should be better understood.

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