Stakeholder Management with apologies to Dr. Seuss

September 25, 2009

When beetles battle beetles in a puddle paddle battle and the beetle battle puddle is a puddle in a bottle…
…they call this a tweetle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle muddle.
Excerpted from: Tweetle Beetles, ‘The Fox in Socks’, by Dr Seuss

The connection between a book written to be read to under 5s and business stakeholder management is the ‘puddle muddle’ otherwise known as the stakeholder pool. The challenge of managing stakeholders is a factor of the disturbance caused by dozens if not hundreds of battles most of which, the person attempting to efficiently manage his or her stakeholders has no control over whatsoever.

Most stakeholder management methodologies start by assessing the stakeholder from the perspective of the work. This is not unreasonable but can easily miss many important factors.

The Stakeholder Pool

Figure 1: The Stakeholder Pool

Figure 1 shows ‘the stakeholder’ in the overall stakeholder pool being influenced by the ripples created by your battle in your part of the pool (your puddle). Unfortunately the stakeholder pool is a much bigger, more turbulent place.

Figure 2: the Stakeholder Pool with turbulance

Figure 2: the Stakeholder Pool with turbulence

Show some of the other disturbances in the pool and you start to see the stakeholder buffeted by waves and impacts from all directions, in Figure 2. ‘The stakeholder’ is continually being buffeted by waves from other projects, the organisation and many other influences. These other waves are one of the prime reasons stakeholder responses to your perfectly reasonable needs or suggestions are frequently so unpredictable. All of these influences, both current and past have helped shape the stakeholders perceptions and attitudes towards your industry, your organisation and ultimately, you.

Consequently, a single view point is really not sufficient! Effective stakeholder management needs an organisational approach. Successful stakeholder management requires all of the influences perceived by the stakeholder to be coordinated and authentic. And this can only be achieved by the organisation as a whole adopting mature, ethical stakeholder management as a core discipline.

Very little has been written about mature organisational stakeholder management until recently. To date, the focus of most papers have been one dimensional focusing on CRM and the ‘customer experience’ or one dimensional focusing on the relationship between the stakeholder and a project (or other organisational activity).

My new book, Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation, takes this next step to define the interaction between the organisation as a whole and its stakeholders using the Stakeholder Relationship Management Maturity (SRMM®) model.

Effective and ethical stakeholder management cannot happen overnight and cannot happen in isolation. The preconceived perceptions of stakeholders towards your work are based on multiple experiences over an extended period of time, and the stakeholder-to-stakeholder conversations that occur outside of your hearing or control. To actively improve these conversations and create a positive and supportive stakeholder environment needs a long term consistent effort, organisation wide.

The SRMM model offers a practical framework that can be used by organisations to build from ad hoc, single project attempts to manage stakeholders to a situation where stakeholder management is a core skill used by the organisation as a whole to maintain a competitive advantage. As with any culture change, this cannot happen overnight but at least my book provides a road map organisations can use to improve their management of stakeholder relationships to the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation.

Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation is published by Gower, ISBN: 978-0-566-08864-3

The power of deadlines

September 20, 2009

Dan Ariely’s excellent book Predictably Irrational, describes an interesting study. He divides a class of students into three groups, which were required to hand in three papers during a course. He gave the three different groups different instructions concerning these papers.

Group 1: Could hand in the papers at any time of the semester. The student would themselves set the deadline for each paper. If the self proclaimed deadlines were not be met, there would be a penalty. All students had the option to set the deadlines on the last day of the class but they could also use the deadlines to force themselves to start working earlier and work during the whole semester.

Group 2: This group would have no deadlines and they could hand in their papers at any time and there was no risk of penalties as long as they did hand in their papers before the end of the class.

Group 3: This group were given specific, evenly spaced deadlines for each paper and there penalties if the deadlines were not met.

One paper was a proof reading report. These are the results:

Group Performance

Group Performance


The third group consistently had the best grades and the second group got the worst grades.

The results of the first group were more interesting. Only 27% of the students chose to submit all three papers on the last day of class despite this being the logically best option that gave the greatest flexibility. Most appeared to be aware of their tendency to procrastinate, and set themselves deadlines to help them get through the work. The studies show that these deadlines did improve performance over only having a deadline at the very end. However, the results are still suboptimal compared to the subjects who were given equally spaced externally imposed deadlines.

Ariely points at our tendency to procrastinate, which makes us delay important tasks and the best way to avoid this is for a formal figure to give us specific deadlines. Self imposed deadlines help but are not as effective. So why do we procrastinate? This is an effect psychologists attribute to ‘hyperbolic time discounting’: the immediate rewards are disproportionally more compelling than the greater delayed costs. In other words, procrastination itself is the reward.

This book and the studies offer powerful insights for PMOs and project managers when dealing with stakeholders and in particular, contrators. The results clearly suggest that contract deadlines at the ‘end’ of a project are of no real benefit; they are too far away to matter until it is too late.

Optimal performance is likely to be achieved if the PMO or project manager can impose a series of milestones that ‘matter’, with penalties attached, that are evenly spaced throughout the course of the work. If this is not feasible, then the next best option is to encourage the contractor or stakeholder to develop its own deadlines and monitor these closely.

There is a paper on the Mosaic website written in 2002, ‘The Power of Regular Updates’ that reached similar conclusions. Apparently relying on the good intentions of others is not the optimum solution for anybody.

The influence of Personal Branding on communication

September 12, 2009

The ability of a manager or consultant to influence others is very strongly influenced by how the person is perceived. Very few business situations involve communication between people who know each other well; more often the building blocks of a relationship are based on perceptions.  This is where personal branding becomes critically important.

The concept of personal branding was first introduced in the 1980 book: “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind”, by Al Ries and Jack Trout, since then, the idea that has been gaining momentum. The basic concept is that we, as individuals, have an opportunity to create a brand identity for ourselves that can have a significant impact on the way people see us. Fortunately, we have the ability to adjust our brand to influence how we want people to perceive us and consequently influence the way they interpret our communication.

For long term effect, it is important your brand is authentic. Whilst within reasonable, and ethical, limits you can make a big impact on what the brand is, it is important to stay ‘real’. It is nearly impossible to maintain a brand that is not authentic, and in losing credibility, you destroy trust and relationships.

The key to branding is the impression we make on the people we work with while we are with them and after we have moved on. Every interaction we have with a person has an impact on how they perceive us. This means that each time we connect with another person we have an opportunity to establish, build and maintain our own personal brand, or conversely damage it.

Once established, our personal brand becomes part of the encoding and decoding process and influences every message we send. If the people you work with perceive you as someone they can trust and rely on, then they’ll be more likely to believe your message even when the news is bad.

To develop a credible brand you first need to work out what you want to do for the rest of your life, setting goals, writing down a mission, vision and personal brand statement (what you do and who you serve), and then create a development plan.

Some aspects to consider include:

  • Wardrobe: Your personal style is tangible and is extremely important, select clothing that best represents you.
  • LinkedIn and Facebook profiles: people will look at both. LinkedIn allows you to establish your brand through professional credentials and a professional network, Facebook adds another more social dimension but be careful! Tools like Facebook can be a double-edged sword, you never really know who is looking at your collection of photographs. These tools are powerful, but without care, they can easily have a negative impact on our individual brands.
  • Work performance: Last but most important. Looking good is of no value unless you have a solid track record. However, the key element is effective relationship building and communication within the work.

These are just a few ideas, if you want to develop a personal brand there are heaps or resources available on the internet. But without a brand, many of your communications will simply be noise that is ignored by your intended recipient.