When you are clear about what you want to achieve, it is often frustrating to find that others do not share your enthusiasm. A great deal of time and effort is expended building the case, considering the risks and planning the execution. Everything seems to make sense, and you are keen to get going — you want to implement swiftly. Then the problems start.
Reaching out to your stakeholders, you begin to find out that some are not interested. They fail to buy into your project, or, worse, don’t even give you the time to explain your plans. When you do get to see them, they start to share insights with you about other things going on elsewhere in the organisation which seem to be in direct conflict with what you are working on.
Trouble is, you can see that they may have a valid point. Doubts begin to set in as you realise that what you have been tasked to achieve is not necessarily going to be as straightforward as you originally thought. Indeed, you probably start to wonder why the people above you can’t agree on what should be done — must be the politics!
Understanding This Challenge
As an organisational strategy swings into execution, nobody has all of the answers, and, quite often, it appears that different initiatives that have been signed off are incompatible. Whether they are or are not is a matter of detail and the perceptions (and creativity) of the individuals who are making it happen. And, of course, there could be some political motivations adding strength to the apparent lack of fit between the agendas.
Added to this is the risk that delays between decision and execution can allow change to creep in and unsettle the original decision. Change is happening all around, and what once made complete sense could now seem stupid. Unfortunately, projects often continue beyond their “sell by” date with diligent executers continuing to push for completion.
To start to move forward, a number of things are critical. Firstly, you need to be sure that your own agenda is right. This will involve reassessing the case, checking for changes (both inside your project and in the wider environment) and then testing commitment. Once you have got your own house in order, you can then begin the standard Stakeholder Influence Process to advance your cause.
After considering the ideas above, select the programme resources below which appear to have the most value in helping you to move forward on this challenge.
- What Agendas? Specifically, what agendas are in conflict with yours? Can you list them? Many people struggle to describe exactly what they are up against, and this makes it very difficult to progress this challenge. If you don’t know or cannot be specific, start talking to people to get more insight. See Defining Agendas.
- Hidden Agendas. There is always a reason. Just because you cannot see it right now doesn’t mean that it is purposely “hidden.” Thinking it is a hidden agenda sets up an unhelpful attitude — one where you might see the proof that it is hidden and miss the proof that it is not. It could be that you have not asked the right questions yet, or, the level of trust in your relationship with the stakeholder needs to rise. Another good article on this is about personal and professional agendas.
- Build Trust. Is the agenda you are up against personal or professional? Handling a stakeholder’s personal agenda requires a higher level of trust and, sometimes, a professional agenda can be a cover for what they are really driving for. Careful questions and investigations can start to uncover what is really going on. There is a great deal on trust in the library, start with Building Trust in a New Relationship or Trust and Credibility.
- Create Options. What creative options can you think of that would minimise the differences between your agenda and the one you are conflicting with? Sometimes things get lost in translation. It may just be a superficial misunderstanding caused by describing them in different ways. Perhaps the way you are positioning your agenda could change. From experience, this is often the pivot which creates substantial improvement.
- Engage. Once it is clear what you need to do, use the full Stakeholder Influence Process to make it happen with a particular emphasis on how to engage with the different types of stakeholder.
- Strange as it may seem, sometimes agendas are deliberately set against each other. And sometimes for very good reason (take a look at Political Temperatures for more on this).
- Remember to place yourself on your Stakeholder Map too. If you are not your own Advocate, why?
- Tough one, but sometimes you need to take a deep breath and recommend the closure of your agenda. Careful work here can lead to respect and future rewards — but go careful eh?