Stakeholder Where Art Thou?

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The word ‘stakeholder’ is often drenched in over-complication, fretting and anxiety for young new starters. A common complaint is that their stakeholders are unavailable and uncommunicative. This is weird since, in actual fact, every single employee, customer or citizen involved within a company is a stakeholder. Why then are so many clever graduates stumbling around lost?

The problem lies in de-mystifying stakeholders and the information they need. Consultants in their first roles find this particularly challenging: they don’t want to raise every little problem for fear of being annoying, simultaneously, they sometimes lack the confidence to raise serious issues. Getting this balance right is critical to a project’s success. The first step is to figure out the culture of the company and the project framework: Are stakeholders represented by specific roles and considered part of daily operations or is it more ad hoc. Companies need to remove any uncertainties so bright young recruits aren’t stifled in their development.

Agile practices are helpful since they promote visibility and integration. Even the simple daily stand-up is a god-send to young starters, enabling them to share what they’re doing with the team and become comfortable gauging what information the group needs. It’s re-assuring for a new starter to understand the team’s vision and be part of agile ceremonies. In this way, they begin to develop a feeling for project risk, the quality levels demanded, client requirements and the team’s priorities. This sense of shared responsibility removes the mystery of the workplace and a lot of the fear too.

As ever though, agile is not a magic wand — not all those using waterfall are lost nor all those using agile found. The key lies in every single employee, customer or citizen involved within the company realising that they are responsible for success or failure. Everyone must use their time, skills, expertise and influence to help reach goals. If companies can foster this common goal then stakeholders are suddenly easier to find and information moves seamlessly into the right hands.

Being involved is everybody’s job. So, if you’re a senior executive you need to stop hiding in your office and integrate stakeholder engagement into the daily operations of your business. And, if you’re a new consultant you need to muck in, get involved and become a part of the collective goal as quickly as possible. It really shouldn’t be unusual for companies to communicate in this way, but, if you do start to get lost, a good move is to ask the person next to you for directions!