How to Start Building Stakeholder Trust & Communication
One of the most basic challenges you face as a quality professional is the sheer number of stakeholders you have to manage. From top management to suppliers to team members, you have a lot of people to answer to, which can feel confusing even at the best of times. That’s why you need a stakeholder management strategy.
Done right, a stakeholder management strategy can reduce stress and help you to work faster. By enabling you to anticipate stakeholder needs, hone and clarify priorities, and stay aligned on important initiatives, this strategy increases stakeholder trust and communication — bolstering your reputation as a trusted producer.
Defining Stakeholder Management Strategy
At the most basic level, a stakeholder management strategy is simply a plan of action designed to effectively engage stakeholders by getting them the right deliverables and reporting in a timely manner throughout the duration of a project. The idea is to maximize stakeholder cooperation and minimize negative outcomes.
Designed to win resources, reduce conflict, and earn buy-in, this plan is a key and indispensable component of any project management plan. That’s important, because, as a quality manager, your work is tightly aligned with project management and can benefit from borrowing proven tactics in that field.
Relationships with Key Stakeholders
Stakeholders are people — and, in some cases, groups or organizations — who are affected by your company’s policies, objectives, and actions. They can be internal (like employees or owners) or external (like customers or vendors) to your company. Indeed, anyone who can claim to have a “stake” in the success of your business can be considered a stakeholder.
Happy stakeholders drive growth and innovation; unhappy ones can derail even the simplest of projects. It’s a broad category, but each segment is worth your time. Here are some examples of common stakeholders, and how they might affect your work as a quality professional:
- Executive Leaders/C-Suite Executives. These top-tier stakeholders include c-suite executives, vice presidents, and senior directors. They direct organizational development and strategy. Effective management of this segment of stakeholders can result in support and resources; failure to do so can result in roadblocks.
- Suppliers and Vendors. Although external, suppliers and vendors are quite literally your business partners. Negotiating and managing processes, interpersonal relationships, and conflicts is essential to smooth operations.
- Peers in Other Departments. Perhaps the most “political” group to manage, peers are internal stakeholders who may or may not be directly involved in quality initiatives. Failure to manage these stakeholders can result in personal conflict or political maneuvering.
- Governing Bodies. A large share of your job as a quality professional is ensuring your organization meets the requirements of your industry’s governing bodies. Failure to keep these stakeholders happy can result in paperwork, penalties, and even closures.
- Team Members. It’s important to ensure that individuals on your team feel a sense of ownership over their work and see that their personal concerns are made a priority. Quality programs rarely succeed without happy team members.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. While the key stakeholders in your industry or company may differ from this list, the concept remains the same.
5 Steps to Managing Key Stakeholders
With so many individuals, groups, and organizations to consider, each with their own set of priorities, stakeholder management can be an intricate and somewhat political task. Follow these five steps to clarify your approach and build the best possible strategy.
- Identify Key Stakeholders. Map out who has a stake in your organization, both within and outside of your walls.
- Identify the Goals of Each Stakeholder. Your mission is to understand what drives each person, group, or organization. To build a strategic plan for stakeholder management, you’ll need to understand their goals as well as how they measure success.
- Assess the Environment. While it may be a goal to strive for, you can’t please everyone all the time. You will have to prioritize, which means you need to understand who has the most power, whose goals and vision take precedence, and whose actions will have the greatest impact on your project. Bear in mind that different stakeholders have different communications styles and expectations, so you’ll need to define and report metrics on an individual basis.
- Define the Problems. A proactive strategic approach is far more effective than a reactive one, especially over extended periods of time. Do your best to identify problems early in the relationship, and address them as soon as possible. Work to anticipate stakeholder expectations and needs, which can save time and prevent frustration for everyone involved.
- Create an Action Plan. If you want to get ahead of anticipated issues, you’ll need to create and implement a plan designed to help you maximize rapport with each stakeholder. Doing so might involve implementing new team processes, or automating operations via data aggregation and reporting tools. How you communicate with stakeholders is vital, so consider planning to send newsletter updates, launching public relations or social media campaigns around important milestones, or scheduling regular meetings to connect. Keep in mind that each stakeholder may require a unique strategy, as no two stakeholders will have the same needs.
Project managers have already developed excellent guidelines around stakeholder management. Luckily, for quality professionals like you, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. By following these steps, you’re sure to build trust and improve communication with your community of stakeholders. And your quality program will flourish as a result.
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