How the chair can make a meeting ineffective

March 7, 2017

The chair of any meeting has a unique ability to destroy the value of the meeting!

Eight of the key ways to reduce the meeting’s value are:

  1. Playing favourites. Bad chairs tend to shut down some attendees whilst allowing others they see as politically important to occupy most of the speaking time. The outcome from this behaviour tends to be poor decision-making; bad chairs don’t care. Their interest is to stay the good books of the people they see as politically important.
  2. Changing the rules. Bad chairs keep the rules to themselves and change the rules when it suits them. They don’t give advice on what preparation attendees need to make or advise how the meeting will be conducted. While this trait may appear to appear to be a gambit to leave the chair in control, in reality it means the meeting is likely to be less than useful.
  3. Showing bias. When there is a vigorous debate between various groups in the meeting a bad chair will obviously be supporting one side.  Good chairs remain neutral whilst they may feel strongly about subject their primary function is to ensure the meeting reaches a consensus, not that the meeting reaches a decision that they predetermine as being optimum (although they need to be part of the consensus).
  4. Failing to define its purpose. Bad chairs do not define a clear objective for the meeting, fail to set priorities, and don’t circulate an agreed agenda. Good chairs define the purpose of every meeting with crystal clarity so attendees can come prepared and stay focused.
  5. Losing control. The hallmarks of a bad chair during the meeting include running over time, getting off track, get rattled, and allowing discussion to descend into personal arguments. Good facilitators keep their hands firmly on the reins consistently and politely guiding discussion back to the purpose of the meeting.
  6. Failing to communicate. Bad chairs tend to display no sense of appreciation for the points made by contributors to the discussion and tend to ignore many of the attendees. Good chairs are great communicators remember everybody’s name, include newcomers, and are excellent at active listening and summarising points to ensure everybody has a clear understanding of the current state discussion[1].
  7. Failing to make decisions. Deadlocks happen in most meetings, bad chairs cannot solve them. A good chair will either take a vote, extend discussion for a set (limited) period, set up a working party, or call an extraordinary meeting to deal with the item later; any of these options are better than allowing the meeting to waffle on allowing tension and confusion to grow.
  8. Failing to engage with meeting participants outside of the meeting. Bad chairs are missing in action, too busy to be involved with the delegates other than during the meeting. Good chairs recognise the meeting is part of a continuing process that requires responsive input and support between meetings.

Meetings are an expensive resource often costing thousands of dollars an hour to run. If you are the chair of the meeting, or are responsible for calling a meeting, you need to ensure the meeting is managed effectively to maximise the opportunity for success.  This is important for every type of meeting from a short team ‘stand-up’ through to company board meetings – the further up the hierarchy the greater the cost of ineffective meetings. Unfortunately ‘bad chairs’ seem to be common at all levels; the idea for this post came from an article by Kath Walters in the AICD March 2017 magazine focused on the behaviour of dysfunctional boards of directors.

Recognising poor performance is one thing, doing something about it is another; for more on managing effective meetings see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1075_Meetings.pdf

___________________

[1] For more on active listening see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1012_Active_Listening.pdf


Practical Ethics

February 26, 2016

EthicsA string of disasters over the last couple of years suggest many business and government leaders simply do not understand ‘practical ethics’.  Through naivety, undue optimism, or laziness, they have set up situations based on blind trust in the ethical standards of others resulting in deaths, injury and the loss of $billions.

Just a few examples:

  • The ‘Home insulation program’ of 2008/9 resulted in 4 deaths, numerous house fires and many well established businesses being destroyed. The naive assumption by the Government seemed to be that with $millions of government funding easily accessed, businesses would still act ethically, train staff and comply with occupational health and welfare standards. The failure by businesses to meet this expectation has resulted in numerous prosecutions after the damage was done.
  • The outsourcing of technical and further education training (TAFE) to the private sector. Private providers under the VET Fee-Help scheme are paid for students signed up to courses, not for students qualified from courses – the naive assumption by the Government seemed to be that with $millions of government funding easily accessed, businesses would still act ethically and only sign up students that could benefit from the courses and would deliver good training outcomes. $hundreds of millions of public funds have been wasted – most of which can never be recovered.
  • Downer EDI’s Board of Directors appear to have blindly trusted their management to run the disastrous $3 billion Waratah train project. Normal governance feedback seemed to have been ignored to the point where the Directors were unable to get information on the project when needed, blowing a $20 million loss into a $200 million loss.

In each of these cases the government and business leaders seemed to have either assumed everyone would act ethically or relied on Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible hand’ (a flawed theory much loved by the rabid right, particularly in the USA). Unfortunately ethics is not that simple!  Writing a code of ethics[i] is a relatively simple process; encouraging people to live up to the code is far more difficult. There are several factors needed:

  • First, the organisations leaders need to lead by example. The ethical standards of the organisation and its supply chain are unlikely to exceed the standards set by the leadership (see: Ethical Leadership).
  • Second, the expected standards need to be clearly and unambiguously articulated. Saying you require one standard of behaviour and then paying people to perform differently will inevitably lead to the organisation getting what it has paid for (see: The normalisation of deviant behaviours).
  • Third, the governance and management systems need ‘real-time’ feedback to both encourage the desired standards of behaviour and to detect any ‘slips’ very early in the process so corrective actions can be implemented before there is a major issue (see: Self Correcting Processes).

Unfortunately governments in particular are reasonably good at enforcing standards years after the breach took place and seem to assume that the ‘deterrent effect’ will suffice to maintain ethical standards – this assumption patently does no work!  I doubt the £2.25m fine imposed on UK consultancy Sweett Group[ii] for bribing a prominent United Arab Emirates (UAE) businessman in return for work will have much effect on other unethical business people contemplating paying a bribe – for a start, no one expects to get caught. The ‘pink batt’ prosecutions occurred years after the scheme was closed, prosecutions under the VET Fee-Help scheme are still to eventuate (and rip-offs are still continuing). The simple fact is the fear of a potential prosecution in a few years time compared to the opportunity to make $millions now has very little effect on unethical people.

Conversely, over policing ‘ethics’ and watching every move can be as destructive as ‘blind trust’. If people feel they are not trusted, there is no incentive for them to act ethically.  Micro management is a major de-motivator and will inevitably lead to suboptimal performance with people doing ‘just enough’ and seeing how much they can get away with[iii]. This approach stifles innovation and creativity.

Practical ethics requires pragmatic trust. You need to trust the people you are working with, governing or managing, but have agreed processes that provide feedback and monitoring, that demonstrates your trust is being honoured.

  • In my ‘Six functions of governance’ management control functions are expected to provide feedback to the governing body that allows it to hold its management accountable and ensure conformance by the organisation being governed. Had these functions been implemented effectively EDI-Downer would be in a much better position today.
  • Demand feedback – even if you do not want to hear bad news! The recent announcement by CSIRO that its climate division will be virtually eliminated may be a pragmatic response to government initiatives and cost cutting but serves no one in the long term. Governments and business rely on climate science to make billion-dollar decisions. Without it, they will be relying on guesswork. Shooting the messenger simply means everyone is ‘flying blind’.
  • Build feedback into management systems. In the various government debacles mentioned above (and others) simple changes in process could have reward desirable outcomes rather than rewarding unethical behaviour. The purpose of any TAFE course is to educate a person and demonstrate learning by success in an exam.  Why not pay most of the money on completion of the course? Then make sure audit processes are in place to validate the exam performance is genuine – these exist and are easily applied.

Pragmatic trust is a graduated process – as people demonstrate their trustworthiness and ethical standards less oversight is needed (but less does not mean no oversight); the challenge is to design systems that reward desirable behaviours and outcomes creating a win-win, people who demonstrate high ethical standards are rewarded.

This approach is the antithesis of the current government approach which seems to rely on blind trust, assumes everyone is ethical, and as a consequence directly benefits unethical behaviours (at least in the short term). Not only have the $millions paid out in VET Fees to unethical providers resulted in minimal return to the government; they have actively encouraged unethical standards and have damaged businesses and organisations that do offer quality courses. A lose-lose outcome in which the only winners are the unethical businesses that have ripped off the system – the Pink Batts Royal Commission found a similar effect on the insulation businesses.

Slippery-slopeEthics are by definition based on the standards of behaviour considered acceptable by a group[iv].  When a significant proportion of the groups members start to let standards slip, they will tend to drag the rest of the group with them down the slippery slope – it is very hard to stand out against the normally accepted behaviours of your group. And as with any slippery mountain slope, it is far easier to slide towards the bottom than to keep your footing and climb towards the top.

The role of ethical leaders is first to set the ethical standards, then live up to the standards themselves, and finally require their followers to conform to the standards using pragmatic trust and encouragement rather than after the event punishment.

 


 

 

 

[i] The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is a good example: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF/PMICodeofEthics.pdf

[ii] See: http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/sweett-group-must-pay-32m-bri7bery-a7bu-dh7abi/

[iii] For more on motivation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1048_Motivation.pdf

[iv] For more on ethics and leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1001_Ethics.pdf

 


Project Risk Management – how reliable is old data

January 28, 2016

One of the key underpinnings of risk management is reliable data to base probabilistic estimates of what may happen in the future.  The importance of understanding the reliability of the data being used is emphasised in PMBOK® Guide 11.3.2.3 Risk Data Quality Assessment and virtually every other risk standard.

One of the tenets underpinning risk management in all of its forms from gambling to insurance is the assumption that reliable data about the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future – there’s no certainty in this processes but there is degree of probability that future outcomes will be similar to past outcomes if the circumstances are similar. ‘Punters’ know this from their ‘form guides’, insurance companies rely on this to calculate premiums and almost every prediction of some future outcome relies on an analogous interpretation of similar past events. Project estimating and risk management is no different.

Every time or cost estimate is based on an understanding of past events of a similar nature; in fact the element that differentiates an estimate from a guess is having a basis for the estimate! See:

–  Duration Estimating

–  Cost Estimating

The skill in estimating both normal activities and risk events is understanding the available data, and being able to adapt the historical information to the current circumstances. This adaptation requires understanding the differences in the work between the old and the current and the reliability and the stability of the information being used. Range estimates (three point estimates) can be used to frame this information and allow a probabilistic assessment of the event; alternatively a simple ‘allowance’ can be made. For example, in my home state we ‘know’ three weeks a year is lost to inclement weather if the work is exposed to the elements.  Similarly office based projects in the city ‘know’ they can largely ignore the risk of power outages – they are extremely rare occurrences. But how reliable is this ‘knowledge’ gained over decades and based on weather records dating back 180 years?

World-Temprature

Last year was the hottest year on record (by a significant margin) as was 2014 – increasing global temperatures increase the number of extreme weather events of all types and exceptionally hot days place major strains on the electrical distribution grids increasing the likelihood of blackouts.  What we don’t know because there is no reliable data is the consequences.  The risk of people not being able to get to work, blackouts and inclement weather events are different – but we don’t know how different.

Dealing with this uncertainty requires a different approach to risk management and a careful assessment of your stakeholders. Ideally some additional contingencies will be added to projects and additional mitigation action taken such as backing up during the day as well as at night – electrical storms tend to be a late afternoon / evening event. But these cost time and money…..

Getting stakeholder by-in is more difficult:

  • A small but significant number of people (including some in senior roles) flatly refuse to accept there is a problem. Despite the science they believe based on ‘personal observations’ the climate is not changing…….
  • A much larger number will not sanction any action that costs money without a cast iron assessment based on valid data. But there is no valid data, the consequences can be predicted based on modelling but there are no ‘facts’ based on historical events……..
  • Most of the rest will agree some action is needed but require an expert assessment of the likely effect and the value proposition for creating contingencies and implementing mitigation activities.

 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it???? 

The challenge facing everyone in management is deciding what to do:

  • Do nothing and respond heroically if needed?
  • Think through the risks and potential responses to be prepared (but wait to see what actually occurs)??
  • Take proactive action and incur the costs, but never being sure if they are needed???

There is no ‘right answer’ to this conundrum, we certainly cannot provide a recommendation because we ‘don’t know’ either.  But at least we know we don’t know!

head-in-sandI would suggest discussing what you don’t know about the consequences of climate change on your organisation is a serious conversation that needs to be started within your team and your wider stakeholder community.

Doing nothing may feel like a good options – wait and see (ie, procrastination) can be very attractive to a whole range of innate biases. But can you afford to do nothing?  Hoping for the best is not a viable strategy, even if inertia in your stakeholder community is intense. This challenge is a real opportunity to display leadership, communication and negotiation skills to facilitate a useful conversation.


How to succeed as a PM in 2016

January 6, 2016

On-the-busProjects are done by people for people and through the medium of social media, people power is growing.  Successful project managers know this and use it to their advantage; they create a team culture focused on working with other stakeholders to create success.

Project managers know when they get this right because their project team will challenge, follow and support them, and each other, in order to get the job done. Not only that, but word spreads and other people inside the organisation will want to join the team or be associated with its success. When a PM achieves this, they know they have created something special and paradoxically are under less pressure, can get a good night’s sleep, and as a consequence are fully refreshed each day to keep building the success. This is good for the people and great for the organisation!!

Developing the skills and personal characteristics needed to develop and lead a committed team needs more then technical training. Experience, reflection, coaching and mentoring all help the project manager grow and develop (and it’s a process that never stops). Five signs that they are on the path to becoming a great team leader are:

  1. They’re well liked. Great leaders make people feel good about themselves; they speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, are clear about what needs to be achieved[1], and are also interested in their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that they are human. They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with courtesy. When the team picks up on this the project area will be filled with good humour and great productivity.
  2. They put effort into building and maintaining teams. Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time – you need the right people ‘on the bus[2]’ and you need to get the wrong people ‘off the bus’. A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate intensely for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.
  3. They involve everyone in planning. Or at least everyone that matters! The PM identifies the team members and other stakeholders that need to be involved; creates a productive, enjoyable environment, and leads the process. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the time and at the end have a plan that the team has built and believe in.
  4. They take the blame and share the credit. Great project managers are like umbrellas. When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed. Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.
  5. They manage up well. Stakeholder engagement, particularly senior stakeholder engagement is the key to project success[3]. Great project mangers know they need senior executive support to help clear roadblocks and deliver resources and know how to tap into the organisation’s powerlines for the support they need.

Great project mangers are also good technical managers; they have an adequate understand the technology of the project and they know how the organisation’s management systems and methodologies work. But they also know they can delegate much of this aspect of their work to technologists and administrative experts within their team. And if the team is fully committed to achieving project success, these experts will probably do a better job than the project manager anyway.

Projects are done by people for people and the great project managers know how to lead and motivate[4] ‘their people’ to create a successful team that in turn will work with their stakeholders to create a successful project outcome.

 

[1] For more on delegation see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1091_Delegation.pdf

[2] In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”

[3] This is the focus of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

[4] For more on leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1014_Leadership.pdf


Governance and ethics

October 10, 2015

Lost valueBack in June I posted on Governance and Stakeholders focusing on the damage institutions were doing to their stakeholders through on-going governance failures.  Two of the organisations discussed (not for the first time) were the CBA Bank’s ongoing financial advice crisis and FIFA’s corruption, both on-going scandals.

Press articles over the last few days show neither of these problems is being well managed from either the institutions’ perspective or their customers’/stakeholders’ perspectives. The on-going sagas suggest the root cause of the problems is very much a governance failure, but in areas not previously discussed.

The Six Functions of Governance are:

  1. Determining the objectives of the organisation;
  2. Determining the ethics of the organisation;
  3. Creating the culture of the organisation;
  4. Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organisation;
  5. Ensuring accountability by management;
  6. Ensuring compliance by the organisation.

This post will demonstrate the importance of functions 2 and 3.

Starting with FIFA: the stated objective of FIFA is to further the development of soccer (football) world-wide. A noble objective!  However, to a large extent the culture and ethics within FIFA have become focused on individuals obtaining and retaining personal power for the benefit of the ‘powerful person’ – they may believe they are the best possible person for the job, but the evidence suggests otherwise! The use of FIFA’s resources by people in power to achieve this end has already been well documented and whilst of themselves these actions are not necessarily wrong, they have certainly led to a number of high profile prosecutions for corruption. I would suggest the ethical breakdown was driven by the toxic culture focused on achieving and retaining power.

This type of problem is well understood in many similar organisations that I’m familiar with, where there has been a focused effort by the governing body to create a culture of service to the membership / stakeholders.  This has been achieved by placing strict limits on the amount of time any one person can occupy a position of power. Generally there’s a ‘leadership chain’ of one or two ‘vice presidents’ and then the president.  People on this chain have one year terms in each position and move up the ladder progressively (elections are for the lowest ‘rung’ on the ladder).  Similarly, members of the governing body can serve a maximum of two terms of two years and a minimum of 25% of the ‘board’ positions are up for election each year.

This type of governance framework provides both continuity and renewal, and discourages people seeking power for themselves.  Anyone interested in seizing ‘power’ for 10 to 20 years will go elsewhere and find another organisation to participate in. This continual renewal process ensures there are always new ideas and new sets of eyes to ‘see’ any problems that are emerging, balanced by experience to maintain the longer term objective of the organisation. Ethical standards, competency and other matters remain important within a governance framework focused on facilitating the organisation’s objectives.

It will be interesting to see if the inevitable changes in FIFA will move in this direction and then if they use their funding power to drive similar changes through the regional and national organisations. If there’s no structural change, there will be no lasting change in the governance culture and consequently in the culture of the whole organisation.

CBAThe second focus is the CBA bank. Culture is also an issue in the way the CBA bank is treating the people damaged by the toxic culture it encourages in its wealth management division.  The basic rule for dealing with a failure (particularly of this magnitude) is ‘own-up then fix-up’. You need to acknowledge the error and take appropriate actions to rectify the mistake.

The causes of the problems were structural, and are discussed in The normalisation of deviant behaviours, but it took a Senate enquiry to drag a reluctant acknowledgement of the error.  To avoid sanctions, the CBA also agreed to set up a ‘high profile’ unit to compensate the victims of its wealth management advice.  After many months virtually no-one has been compensated and the bank’s approach would appear to be parsimonious at best.

The ‘fix-up’ part of dealing with a problem requires quick and generous restitution as far as is possible. This is relatively easy where then primary loss is financial but runs counter to the bank’s demonstrated culture of not really admitting error accompanied by short-term monetarism.

A quick and generous solution would be to frame a simple calculation and make an offer. The CBA knows how much money was ‘brought to the table’ by their victims, they can easily calculate what that would be worth now if the bank had advised the people to invest in bank term deposits and  they know the value of the money actually returned to the people. A couple of weeks with a decent spreadsheet and everyone could have received a reasonable offer.  There may be a need to add in some costs incurred in fighting for the victims rights and for other losses and damage but the whole problem could be largely resolved by now.

The cost of this type of option will be insignificant compared to the less obvious but real costs associated with the wages and costs associated with the bureaucratic monster the bank has created, the massive on-going damage to the bank’s reputation and ‘brand capital’ and the contingent liabilities for further legal actions and/or government action driven by the bank’s approach to this problem.

I’m not sure how the logic of the bank’s assessment processes are structured but a report in the press this week that some people had only been offered a fee refund highlights an approach focused on minimising payouts rather then solving the problem.  If advice was so bad a refund of the fees paid for the advice is warranted, the advice was bad and liability for the damage it caused would appear to sit with the bank??

How you change the culture in an institution as big as the CBA from a parsimonious focus on paying out money to maximise short-term profits is a challenge of the CBA Board, but if they fail, sooner or later the CBA will fail because its stakeholder community will decide to do business elsewhere.  Just because you are big does not mean you are invulnerable.

Conclusion.

The first three elements in the six functions of governance are there for a reason.  Obviously the objectives of the organisation are its reason for existing and have to come first. Then the governing body has to do the hard work of developing the right set of ethics and the right culture within the organisation’s (making sure its governance framework supports the desired culture) before anything else can really occur. As FIFA in particular demonstrates, failure in these critical aspects of an organisation tarnish everything else is touches.

It is impossible to achieve a ‘customer centric’, stakeholder aware organisation if the culture is focused on power or short-term profits!


Defining Stakeholder Engagement

August 6, 2015

Two earlier posts have discussed the concepts of stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder Engagement GroupThis post builds on these foundations to look at the tools and techniques of proactive stakeholder engagement. Effective stakeholder engagement is a mutually beneficial process designed to enable better planned and more informed policies, projects, programs and services.

For stakeholders, the benefits of engagement include the opportunity to contribute as experts in their field or ‘users’ of the deliverable, have their issues heard and participate in the decision-making process. This should lead to:

  • Greater opportunities to contribute directly to the development of the outputs from the work;
  • More open and transparent lines of communication, increasing accountability and driving innovation;
  • Improved access to decision-making processes, resulting in the delivery of better outcomes;
  • Early identification of synergies between the stakeholders and the work, encouraging integrated and comprehensive solutions to complex issues.

For the ‘organisation’, the benefits of stakeholder engagement include improved information flows, access to local knowledge and having the opportunity to try out ideas or proposals with stakeholders before they are formalised. This should lead to:

  • Higher quality decision-making;
  • Increased efficiency in and effectiveness of delivery;
  • Improved risk management practices – allowing risks to be identified and considered earlier, thereby reducing future costs;
  • Streamlined development processes;
  • Greater alignment with stakeholder interests – ensuring outputs are delivered in collaboration with stakeholders and provide outcomes which meet their needs;
  • Enhanced stakeholder community confidence in the work being undertaken;
  • Enhanced capacity to innovate.

As with any stakeholder management process, ‘not all stakeholders are equal’ some stakeholders should be engaged because they are important to the work being undertaken, others simply need to be kept informed by appropriate levels of communication (for more on this see The three types of stakeholder communication).

The various levels of stakeholder communication, management and engagement are:

  • Inform: You provide the stakeholder with an appropriate level of communication, generally either PR or reporting.
  • Manage: You direct your communication to achieve a desired change in the attitude of the stakeholder or to manage an emerging situation.
  • Consult: You invite the stakeholder to provide feedback, analysis, and/or suggest alternatives to help develop a better outcome.
  • Involve: You work directly with stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and needs are consistently understood and considered; eg, the business representative involved in an Agile sprint).
  • Collaborate: You partner with the stakeholder to develop mutually agreed alternatives, make joint decisions and identify preferred solutions; eg, typical ‘alliance’ and ‘partnering’ forms of contract.
  • Empower: You place final decision-making in the hands of the stakeholder. Stakeholders are enabled (but also need to be capable) to actively contribute to the achievement of ‘their’ outcomes.

Stakeholder CollaborationThe first three bullets above are Stakeholder Management activities, the last three various levels of Stakeholder Engagement. Deciding which level of interaction is appropriate is a key driver of success, in any project, program or other work, some stakeholders will be best managed by simply keeping them informed, whereas the higher levels of engagement such as collaboration and empowerment require stakeholders with sufficient skills and knowledge to be able to actively participate in the endeavour, and importantly the desire to be involved!

The Stakeholder Circle® methodology provides the foundations needed to understand your stakeholder community and decide on the appropriate level of engagement for the ‘high priority’ stakeholders affected by the work. When you get to ‘Step 4 – Engagement’ the additional questions that need answering include:

  • What is the purpose and desired outcomes of the engagement activity?
  • What level of engagement is required to achieve this outcome – consult, collaborate, empower?
  • What method of engagement will you use?
  • What are the timing issues or requirements?
  • What resources will you need to conduct the engagement?
  • Who is responsible for engagement?
  • What are the risks associated with the engagement?

 

Finally, as with any stakeholder management process, the success or otherwise of the overall process needs to be reviewed regularly and appropriate adaptation made to optimise outcomes (step 5 in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology)

Summary:

Stakeholder engagement is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to managing stakeholders and needs to be planned into the overall development of the work:

  • Some of the questions outlined above need asking at the very earliest stages of a project or program during the ‘strategic planning phase’ and will affect the way the whole of the work is planned and undertaken.
  • The culture of the organisation undertaking the work will determine how open it is to inviting stakeholder collaboration or engagement, a degree of ‘culture change’ may need to be planned into the work.
  • Stakeholder engagement is always a two-way process, the skills, capability and culture of the key stakeholders will also be a constraint on what is feasible or desirable. You may need a strategy to ‘get the stakeholders on-side’.

Overall time and effort spent on stakeholder engagement will pay dividends (see: Valuing Stakeholder Management), stakeholder engagement is simply the most proactive way of helping your stakeholders to help you deliver their requirements successfully.


The Elements of Stakeholder Engagement

July 20, 2015

Effective stakeholder engagement is a two-way interactive relationship that encourages stakeholder involvement in the organisation for the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation.  The trend is increasingly clear; organisations that effectively serve the needs of their stakeholders outperform those that do not.

However, what is also apparent is confusion on the part of many managers as to precisely what stakeholder engagement is, and what systems facilitate effective stakeholder engagement.  This post suggests there are three basic systems that together form the foundation for effective stakeholder engagement in most organisations, but the foundations are just that, necessary underpinnings, stakeholder engagement itself rises above the foundations to create an entirely new way of engaging with stakeholders. Let’s start with a look at the three basic components:

Stakeholder Engagement

PR = Public Relations

PR is probably the oldest of the three foundations (particularly if you include advertising within the overall ambit of PR).  For thousands of years people and organisations with something to sell to ‘the public’ have recognised the need to tell potential customers about their offering and suggest there is a good reason for the potential customer to become an actual customer or client.

Camel Market

Smart merchants realised they needed to give potential customers a reason for doing business with them (rather than someone else) and that competing on price alone was not a good move in a crowded market place.

The role of advertising is in part to make potential customers aware of your offering and in part to create a desire for the type of goods or services you are providing. Effective advertising creates a ‘call to action’ which the customer heeds.

Public Relations (PR) has a different focus.  Good PR is built around creating a positive image of the organisation in the minds of its wider stakeholder community. PR is not directly aligned to sales in the way advertising is, but does seek to make the organisation appear to be one that most stakeholders in its target audience will want to be associated with.  This may be because of exclusivity, or status, because the organisation is seen to be ‘good’, or for any one of a dozen other reasons.  Effective PR has many purposes including:

  • Underpinning its advertising by creating a ‘good first impression’ of the organisation, thereby allowing the stakeholder to take note of its advertising.
  • Explaining the value of the organisation to a wider community minimising resistance to the functioning of the organisation and facilitating its operations.
  • Making the organisation appear to be a desirable ‘citizen’ within its community; etc.

Good PR is of course authentic and reflective of the true nature of the organisation, in the modern age ‘spin’ is easily uncovered and can be very damaging.

The fundamental nature of both PR and advertising is ‘push’ communication – the organisation pushes its message out to the wider community, hopes someone listens, and then measures its impact after the event with a view to improving the ‘message’ and the effect.

 

CRM = Customer Relationship Management

CRM is focused on providing a great experience to every customer.  The commercial driver for CRM is in part the generally accepted fact that it is far cheaper to retain an existing customer then to attract a new one and in part from a win-win view that the ability to quickly and efficiently service the unique needs of each customer reduces the transaction costs for the organisation.

Customers or clients are clearly stakeholders with a significant interest in the organisation, so focusing effort on providing them with the best possible level of service, delivered quickly and efficiently is a win-win outcome. Happy customers are more likely to recommend an organisation to their friends and colleagues as well as becoming regular clients of the organisation.

Unfortunately the concept of CRM seems to have been hijacked by software systems, overseas call centres and ‘big data’; bought with a view to ‘reducing costs’.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these concepts provided the outcome is improved customer service. Where the outcome is a reduction in service, any cost savings are likely to be offset by reduced business and the cost of attracting new customers to replace the ones lost by poor service.

Whilst CRM at its best is interactive and focused on a win-win outcome for both the organisation and its stakeholders, the stakeholders directly affected by CRM are limited to the organisations customers and clients.

 

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is process focused; it involves planned interaction with a wider stakeholder community, both to manage the consequences of any crisis as well as providing information and facilitating two-way communication with key stakeholders.

Good stakeholder management is a proactive process, focused on facilitating regular communication and anticipating needs, issues and problems that are likely to arise within the stakeholder community. Tools and methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle® are designed to facilitate efficient stakeholder management. Stakeholders are identified, there needs assesses and their relative importance determined. Based on this assessment, communication and other interactions are initiated to gather the support and assistance needed by the organisation and to head off or minimise any threats or problems.

The focus of stakeholder management tends to be ‘defensive’, and is aimed at creating the best possible stakeholder environment to allow the organisation to do its work efficiently   The process is interactive, seeking to engage constructively with the organisations stakeholders and looking for win-win outcomes that benefit the organisation and the stakeholder, but is driven by the organisation, from the perspective of the organisation.

 

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement builds on these three foundations (particularly ‘stakeholder management’) to create a different paradigm.  Stakeholders are encouraged to actively engage with the organisation and contribute to its growth and development whilst at the same time the organisation and its staff engage with their community through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and the like. These engagement processes build a strong, two-way relationship in which the stakeholders and the organisation work together to build a common future that is both mutually desirable and beneficial.  I will be writing about stakeholder engagement in a future post.

 

Conclusion

The three foundations of Stakeholder Engagement: ‘Stakeholder Management’, CRM and PR are quite different processes focused on achieving different outcomes.  In a well managed organisation all three functions work together to crate a supportive stakeholder environment and a successful organisation. However, whilst the systems need to be aligned and compatible they are very different and should not be confused.

In particular CRM and Stakeholder Management systems have very different objectives, focus on quite different stakeholder groupings, need significantly different information sets, and have very different measures of success:

  • CRM focuses on customers (or clients). Whilst customers as a ‘class’ of stakeholder are important, generally an individual customer is not. The focus of a CRM system is managing large amounts of data to provide ‘all customers’ with a generically ‘good’, potentially ‘tailored’ experience.
  • Stakeholder Management focuses on indentifying the key stakeholders ‘at this point in time’ that require specific management focus as well as the wider group of stakeholders that need to be engaged (or at least watched). In most situations very few individual clients or customers would be sufficiently important to feature in this list, but there will be lots of stakeholders who are highly unlikely to ever become ‘customers’, for example suppliers and competitors.

The shift to ‘stakeholder engagement’ does not add new systems but does require a paradigm shift in thinking. The key element of stakeholder engagement is opening up to the ‘right stakeholders’ and either inviting them into the organisation, or reaching out to them, to help create a mutually beneficial future – more on this later.