Securing buy-in from key stakeholders is an art—and critical to ensuring a project’s success.
Getting leaders with competing agendas and other consultants with conflicting schedules on the same page can be tricky. Pair those challenges with navigating an organization that’s already facing significant change and it’s easy to see how the ability to get buy in from stakeholders can be one of the most difficult and important soft skills you can hone as an independent practitioner.
Here’s how you can most effectively collaborate with and gain buy-in from key stakeholders for your project proposals, the work you perform, and subsequent changes to the organization the work will produce.
Let’s say you’ve been tasked with creating the implementation strategy for a new enterprise software platform at a global company. Since you’ve successfully helped other companies with similar projects, your inclination may be to thoughtfully craft a beautiful slide deck that contains a plan you believe will work well, wait until it’s perfectly polished, and then bring it to your client.
According to Roger Martin, author of the Playing to Win Strategy Toolkit, this would be a big mistake. Whether you’re creating a proposal for new work or an initial plan for your client, you should be sure to communicate “early and often.”
“If you’re getting buy-in at the end, you’re in some sense saying, ‘I don’t want any contribution from you’,” Martin says. An internal leader will be able to share access to unique organizational insight that perhaps you would not be able to see from the outside. People don’t like surprises. In order to nail your next project proposal or initial plan, make sure each element of it is so inline with what you’ve already discussed with your client that it sails through approval.
If your project involves engaging a workforce in a big organizational change like the adoption of a new enterprise software platform, listening to the workforce should be one of the very first steps you take. Conduct town halls. Send out surveys to gauge the “buy-in level” of your stakeholders within the organization. This will help you assure them that their thoughts on everything—from what the old system was lacking to how the company can best leverage the new system—are heard, and will be incorporated throughout the implementation process.
When collaborating on projects, why do some groups thrive and some fail?
In 2012, Google set out to answer these questions. They gave their project a code name: Project Aristotle, a nod to the philosopher’s famous quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The company rounded up its best engineers, sociologists and psychologists. They studied hundreds of Google’s teams to find out if the conventional wisdom about team formation they were following was correct. After reviewing half a century of academic studies regarding how to structure a great team, they found something surprising in their own research: What really matters is not about who is on the team, but how the team worked together.
Google’s researchers found that the most important indicator of team effectiveness was not if team members’ educational backgrounds were similar, if they were introverts or extroverts, or even how skilled they were. It was psychological safety.
According to Google, “In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.” In short, they trust each other.
As an independent consultant, building trust as you embark on new projects is paramount. Be transparent. When you’re sitting on a plane awaiting takeoff for a delayed flight and the pilot keeps telling you it will “take off shortly,” it often raises more questions than answers, doesn’t it? Be open with your client and team, and they will respect you more—and trust you more—because of it. If you need to, devote one member of your team to lead stakeholder buy-in efforts so they don’t get lost in the hustle of activity.
Leverage collaboration tools
In the age of COVID-19, leveraging technology successfully can be key to engaging key stakeholders and helping your team work quickly and effectively once your project is underway. Consider putting a system in place for communication with your team, and using collaboration tools that are designed specifically for remote teams, including:
- Slack for team messaging
- Google Drive for document collaboration
- Microsoft 365 and Skype for Business for an office suite and web-based calling, and
- Trello for workflow management.
When collaborating over video, establish a meeting agenda and protocol in advance, ensure your background looks professional, and master the video platform and the features it offers.
Times of change are hard. Especially if you are in a role that involves organizational design & effectiveness or transformation and restructuring, engaging an influential or well-liked senior leader to champion your project could be a great way to position it for success even after your time working on it comes to a close.
An internal executive champion is a leader in the organization who supports a change that is impacting their group or enterprise. Often someone who represents a group that is most affected by the change, a champion can serve as the face of the effort and help:
- Rally other internal leaders to support the initiative on which you’re working
- Navigate any red tape or office politics that could otherwise hinder progress on the project
- Engage the workforce, keep them motivated, and get out in front of any problems they’re facing, and
- Serve as a conduit for feedback and point of contact for other key stakeholders to turn to with questions—in turn, eliciting even more trust and engagement as your project is implemented.
As an advocate who can promote change from within, a project champion can help ensure the vision for your project materializes and lasts long after your contract ends and you’re engaged in a new endeavor. And perhaps the champion of your project will become a champion of yours, too, leading to more future projects.
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