Assuming you have been diligent in your application of the preceding steps in the Stakeholder Influence Process, now is the time to pull it all together and make quick decisions about what you need to do in order to maximise your progress towards the goal.
The word “strategy” seems to be used everywhere in business today. Put simply, what I mean when I use this word is the general direction or steps you are going to take over a period of time in order to achieve your Influencing Goal. It might be helpful to think of this in terms of the stepping-stones that you need to move safely across from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow.
Many of the stepping-stones will require a number of actions to accomplish. Some of them may be so important that you may decide to invoke the full Stakeholder Influence Process to achieve them, as you move towards your goal.
Another feature of the path in front of you is that it may not be a linear sequence of events. Sometimes, you will need to move forward on many different fronts in the same way that a military commander might fight a battle. At other times, different steps will need to be completed before you can progress to the next.
The output from this step could be called your “campaign” of influence. Using the word campaign helps to position this step in your mind in much the same way that a political candidate may develop their strategy to become an elected representative. This is a helpful mental image because it will encourage you to stay focused on the main task in hand – influencing people. In the majority of cases, it is of critical importance to your Influencing Goal that you win hearts and minds. Of course, you also need to get your facts straight and plans agreed; but usually, when using the Stakeholder Influence Process, the main job is getting people to buy into your ideas, concepts, vision, etc.
Don’t get hung up on the semantics. Stick with the idea that in this step you need to determine the main stepping-stones which will help you to achieve your Influencing Goal, or at least make a significant next step towards it.
This step brings together all of the previous steps to look for things you can do which might have escaped your attention before. As a coach, I sometimes struggle to get people to give this element the attention it deserves. Usually, the preceding steps have been so illuminating that they are literally bursting with ideas of what they can do to move things forward.
And since most of my clients are rather fast moving, sometimes it feels like I’ve got to pin them to the chair to pause a little longer, to take stock, consider the bigger picture, and find the most effective stepping-stones to aim for. If you’re still reading, I’ll give you full marks and promise you that your diligence and attention to detail will be fully rewarded. If you’re not that way inclined, you probably won’t even be reading this sentence!
To keep the bigger picture firmly in mind, you need to start this step by taking a look at your completed Stakeholder Influence Map. From this you can consider the themes and opportunities which could be of critical importance to driving forward your Influencing Goal.
At a high level, to accomplish your goal, you need to be able to shift sufficient power/impact into the Advocates box. Once this box has sufficient power within it, you should be able to start relaxing – even if there are still powerful forces against you, your friends should be able to help you win through. In real life, it is usually difficult to achieve this, but it does form a basic principle – you need to be moving powerful people to the right and upwards. Problems and issues usually lie in the opposite corner around your Enemies.
In essence, this means you need to be continually looking to build good working relationships with your stakeholders, while at the same time increasing the level of agreement that exists for what you want to achieve. The next two chapters are worth reading before you swing into action, because they contain a great deal more input into how to shift stakeholders on each of these dimensions.
As you think about the bigger picture and look for ideas about the most effective stepping-stones to achieve your goal, bear in mind these points…
Concentrate on impact: Focus on those who can have the greatest influence on what you want to make happen – the people who can help or hinder in a big way. There is no point spending time and energy on the minor players unless they are your only route through to the real power brokers.
Shift the greys: Stakeholders that ended up in between the main boxes – perhaps because you don’t know them very well – need to be moved fast, especially if they are very powerful. It is much better to be sure that you have a powerful Critic rather than to be lost in the dark. Once they are in the box, then you can work out how to engage with them.
Move up and right: As mentioned above, the general principle is moving people vertically up the agreement dimension and horizontally right along the relationship dimension.
Movements inside the boxes: Consider opportunities to move people within their box. Moving a powerful Critic from the very bottom of their box to the top half may be sufficient for your purposes. By way of illustration, you might imagine that a Critic could have ten reasons why they believe you should not succeed with your proposal. If you can win them over on eight out of the ten, they might be happy to just let you pass through. Similarly, an Advocate who is in the bottom left of their box could be quite easy to move upwards and right. Remember that the higher somebody moves up on the map, the more action they will be prepared to take to help you. An Advocate in the bottom left is often an opportunity missed.
Advocates are top priority: This is often overlooked when considering influencing strategies, because they are already on side and thus don’t need to be influenced. In addition to finding ways to get them to take more action, you can also work to direct their action towards specific individuals in the other boxes. They will have different relationships with these individuals, and they may be able to exert more power to remove problems that you are facing. The other great thing about Advocates is that, because you have an excellent relationship with them, they will be able to offer you honest and practical advice to help you overcome the challenges that you face. Make full use of these powerful friends!
Critics make great opponents: Because you have a good relationship with people in the Critics box, this means you can potentially negotiate with them. It also means that you both have a transparent way of transacting business – in fact, you probably both know exactly where you stand on the goal in question. I often refer to Critics as “best friends”, because they will help make your proposals and ideas more robust and successful. There is nothing wrong with having opposition, as it will push you to be your best.
Ignore your Enemies: You need to be careful with this one and I realise that I am arguing against the famous maxim “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” In my experience of working with people using the Stakeholder Influence Process, Enemies are often the first place for them to focus – but also the most costly in terms of time, effort, energy and stress! The problem is that since you have recognised the poor quality of your relationship with them, and you are correct in your assessment, your potential to shift the relationship to the other side of the map is limited. I am not saying don’t try, instead be careful you don’t place too much emphasis on these troublesome characters. Far better would be to favour your Advocates and enlist their support in minimising the risk/damage that Enemies could cause. It is sometimes amusing to observe that Enemies often voluntarily move on the map if they feel they are being ignored.
Remember the indirect routes: Sometimes the most effective influence is created through other people. Often the people you may not have direct access to are the key stakeholders whom you need to agree to your Influencing Goal. In which case, look for others who can do this for you – enlist their help and support – make them Advocates!