If there is one constant in life we can be sure of, it’s that the one thing in the business world that won’t change, is change.  Changes at work can be frustrating, unrewarding and downright scary. Anyone that has participated in any business change initiative understands this and thus the success of books like “Who Moved My Cheese?”, “Or Our Iceberg is Melting” and others; not to mention all the training seminars.

And it’s not just “initiatives” that drive change; sometimes it’s a promotion, the boss’ promotion, or even, the boss that you hitched your wagon to, was fired.  But have you ever noticed that there are some around you that thrive on change and seem like they even have a plan for change? Learning to take advantage of the changing factors and variables present in your work can be a source for career  or project success if you seize it as an opportunity. Today we will look at one tactic you can learn to use to your advantage during change and that is unleashing the influence of your stakeholders to advance you in your career or initiatives.

Who are stakeholders?  Stakeholders are the individuals that are impacted by change or in turn, can influence change in your organization, on your project, and in your career success.  Not limited to your area, supervisor or executives, stakeholders can actually be the public, the government, and the sister office located in another country. Without a doubt, managing stakeholders is a tremendous factor in the success of any career or project.  However, when a significant change comes along in your world, how will you know exactly whom these stakeholders are?

During the beginning of a change most successful “change influencers” begin with conducting a stakeholder’s analysis. This analysis aids in identifying individual stakeholders as well as group stakeholders and can range from the very simple to the very complex. We won’t cover the steps to such an analysis here, but in my opinion the key to success is to have at least a basic understanding of:

  • Who influences who in your organization and why (is it performance, relationships, politics, seniority?)
  • Who are the powerful influencers; that is the leaders who have a track record of driving
  • successful change?
  • What organizations, teams, & groups your group and you are dependent upon to be
  • successful and vice versa?
  • How each group or individual is best reinforced (career growth, monetary gain, recognition,
  • etc.)

This will give you a starting point from which you can begin to identify tactics to align with stakeholders that are 1) capable of influencing for you (important) and 2) determine the steps you will need to take to harness their influence. For example, if your boss leaves and they have been your champion to this point, will you be better off having a plan after having thought this through, or will “winging it” suffice? The author believes the former is your best bet.

However, it is important to note that although this analysis is an important and valid method for identifying stakeholders, it can be limited when triggered only at the beginning of a change. I say this because it is difficult to manage stakeholders throughout the entire change “lifecycle”, due to the vigorous and fluctuating manner of change.
Within the course of a change initiative a stakeholder’s influence can change due to numerous factors.

Therefore, make this a habit, avoid over analysis and make the “refresh” of your analysis a priority on your task list every few weeks to update your view.

Considering that the demands of change can vary throughout the lifecycle and a stakeholder’s influence may change, it is imperative for you to be adaptive and flexible. Do you get frustrated when factors change? Check the emotions and realize that external conditions can always change, such as new regulations or changes in competition.
Accordingly, these changes impose the issue of how a professional must maintain healthy relationships with stakeholders.

Current research suggests that stakeholder ninjas like yourself (you will be after you read this article!) should utilize an adaptive approach with social network theory.

Through combining these two approaches, you may be able to discover upcoming leading stakeholders throughout the different cycles of a project.

Social network theory is the perspective that, “actors are embedded within networks of interconnected relationships that provide opportunities for and constraints on behaviors” (Journal of Management, 2010). This theory illustrates a powerful dynamic that runs through a relationship in regards to nodes and ties and that you can use to your benefit. Nodes refer to the individuals inside a network, and ties are the relationships that are formed.

During 2010, the Journal of General Management reported that through the use of social network analysis, research has accomplished the following:

  • Identified different patterns of communication in different types of work arrangements.
  • Compared the density and types of relationships in different work groups.
  • Predicted powerful positions in works groups and organizations (Assudani & Kloppenborg, 2010).

Basically this analysis examines how the organizations workflow and communication networks operate, and indicates those who have general power. Additionally, it can assist in providing names of individuals who are most likely to be the central players throughout the life of the change. This can help you maintain effective communication with stakeholders, and manage them effectively.

Ultimately, adaptive management and social network theory is tied to individual and organizational behavior. Likewise, most of the literature does recognize that organizational behavior is linked to the method of management used in your organization. I will take it a step further and say that behaviors within organizations are the most important aspect to understand in managing stakeholders and producing the influence you want! In fact, organizational behavior research shows time and time again that individuals are motivated through positive reinforcement. Additionally, effective communication and focusing on the humanistic aspect of an organization has been proven to produce successful outcomes to influence others and change. So, tying behavior, effective communication and the humanistic aspect to managing stakeholders should be obvious. Identify individuals whom have the power of influencing the change, and those that will play an important role throughout the numerous stages.

In summary, I believe that as an influencer, you should adhere to the following simple rules in order to be successful in managing stakeholders:

  • Identify individuals whom have the power of influencing the change, and those that will play an important role throughout the numerous stages
  • Continuously address the first stakeholder analysis throughout the change
  • Build healthy relationships with ALL stakeholders, in order to maintain trust and effective communication. You want to be the CEO someday? This should become one of your most important skills
  • Utilize an adaptive and social network theory approach to reveal new influencers
  • Apply beneficial behavioral management methods such as, effective communication, positive reinforcement and regular feedback to get the behavior you want, out of your stakeholders

The firm of Hamilton-Ryker Consulting has strong expertise in managing stakeholders, which has guided clients through successful outcomes. If you would like to learn more on how Hamilton-Ryker Consulting can help your organization manage stakeholders, please contact Scot Hanley, at [email protected]

Scot Hanley is an accomplished professional with experience at major “Big 3” consulting firms and service at the officer level in two major financial services companies as well as experience in several Fortune 500 companies. He is a winner of the prestigious Kerzner “International Project Manager of the Year Award” sponsored by PMI, the certifying body for all project managers. Mr. Hanley currently serves an impressive list of Fortune 500 clients and is always looking to meet new clients and discuss “Project Behavioral Coaching” TM and how it differentiates his management consulting practice from his competitors by making clients successful. Email: [email protected] Phone: 404.220.9969