How to Effectively Engage With Multiple Project Stakeholders

“Dear Elizabeth: I work with a difficult stakeholder population – there are a lot of them. My project has over a thousand people affected by the change my project is delivering, in multiple geographic locations. I know I should be doing stakeholder engagement and creating plans to work with them, but how do you get the one on one contacts with such a large group?”

The short answer is: you don’t.

You can’t build individual connections with that many people. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Plus, not all those people’s problems and opinions will be worthy of your attention.

I understand that isn’t a very helpful answer! I spend a lot of time researching and writing about stakeholder engagement, and it was the topic of my recent webinar for LiquidPlanner, so hopefully, I do have something useful to share with you in response.

Find the leaders

The first thing I would do is find the leaders. There will be people in hierarchical positions of power across different locations. Ask them to either take responsibility for cascading information and managing feedback from their community, or to delegate to someone who can.

This limits the number of people you have to interact with. You still end up with one person per location, but you could perhaps further group them. For example, in one project I used existing geographical networks as my entry point for communication. Our business split the country into different regions. Each region had a ‘cluster group’ made up of representatives from each office location. I interacted with one representative from each cluster group. That further limited the number of personal contacts I had… but you have to accept the risk that your messages don’t get heard in the way they would if you were sharing them yourself.

On another project, we made delivering the change in each location part of the job description for an existing role.

Remember, the person ‘in charge’ isn’t always the best person to have as the key contact for each location. It’s better to choose someone interested in the subject and with the time to dedicate to the project. Set out exactly what you expect from them (especially how much work it is going to be for them to be the named contact) and be open to taking volunteers from all levels across the business.

Prioritize your stakeholders

Another thing you can do is to prioritize your stakeholders. You won’t have time to engage with everyone (this goes for any project, not just those projects with hundreds of stakeholders).

Prioritize your time so you spend your communication and engagement effort on the people who matter most. Here’s a way of categorizing stakeholders.

Priority: These are the people who are directly affected by the work of your project. They are the decision-making group who will be shaping the outcome of the change.

Secondary: These people may be affected, or have a role to play in the project, but are not involved in making direct decisions.

Interested: These people want to be kept informed, but they aren’t going to be affected by the change delivered, and their opinion doesn’t carry any weight either.

There are lots of ways of categorizing stakeholders and it doesn’t matter how you carve up your stakeholder groups as

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