“There are 10,000 of them. There’s one of me. It’s impossible to pay attention to all of them!”

I’ve now forgotten how many times I’ve heard a Procurement manager saying this! If you’re a Procurement Manager, I bet that you’ve said this at least once in your life!

That phrase encompasses all the frustration of procurement professionals outnumbered by their internal stakeholders and as such finding very difficult to manage their relationship with them!

I entirely get the difficulty of mapping and reaching out to the multitude of stakeholders, followed by the enormous task of balancing the different needs. These can dishearten the most committed Procurement Manager.

But it’s also true that effective stakeholder management has become more and more vital, though little effort is often made to understand how to engage with stakeholders constructively.

How to improve the way organizations approach effective stakeholder management?

Let’s start clarifying…

Who are your stakeholders

A stakeholder is a person who has an interest in the outcome of a project. It doesn’t matter their function or department. Being a stakeholder doesn’t depend on a person’s place in the organization chart or on their job description. To understand who are the stakeholders of a project one needs to look at what happens in practice.

Stakeholders can be found in any corner of an organization.

Why Stakeholder Management is important

The importance of effective stakeholder management has grown hand in hand with the increase in organizations’ internal complexity.

Even in larger and more structured organizations, organization charts, policies, and procedures don’t fully represent the reality of how responsibilities and accountabilities are allocated within the organization itself.

They are a good start but not conclusive as interactions in real life happen in a more informal, and sometimes more nebulous, way than any organization chart or procedure might ever capture.

Managing any project in these conditions can prove extremely challenging.

Things get more and more trying when one adds the “human factor” to the picture. People bring a full range of emotions and feelings to the workplace, as well as their wishes and desires about their work, career goals and personal life.

And, like it or not, these very emotions and feelings drive many of the behaviours we see in a work context and can directly or directly affect the outcome of a project or activity.

It’s easy to understand why the compounded effect of unclear organization boundaries and emotional impact can turn any project in the proverbial can of worms.

To get things done, it’s then necessary to engage with stakeholders on a different level.

Effective stakeholder management in 3 steps

Stakeholders Management is part art part science. Art as there’s no perfect recipe universally valid. And each person can interpret it depending on the organization and its culture. Science because there are few tools and approaches that can make it easier and smooth your way forward.

I’ve personally found the following approach beneficial:

  1. Map them – Stakeholders identification needs to be the very first activity to be performed when a new project is put on the table. And during the project, a regular review of the involved stakeholders will be essential to ensure that none is overlooked and everybody is appropriately engaged. Stakeholders mapping is a team effort. Check with your teammates and make sure none is forgotten. Remember: you might forget a stakeholder, but they will never forget you!. To map stakeholders, start thinking to those who have an apparent interest in the project and extend your reflection to those who are less impacted. Once you have a clear idea of who’s impacted, you can devise the best engagement strategy. Early involvement of stakeholders is critical for the success of any project/activity: their voices are heard since the beginning, and they will support your project, and the overall implementation will be smoother.
  2. Know them – What are these people motives, needs and desires? Connect with the stakeholders at a more human level, establishing a personal relationship with them. Remember the “human factor” we talked about earlier? Empathy and Active Listening are vital qualities for modern Procurement professionals. Through Empathy and Active Listening, the Procurement Manager will be able to look beyond the surface and to investigate the deeper motivations and needs of the stakeholders, and will better understand how to address their worries and doubts. The Procurement Manager must seek first to understand and only then to be understood. The other part will be more willing to cooperate and to listen to another point of view if they feel their needs are considered and valued.  A positive connection with the stakeholders, then, generates benefits at different levels. At a more fundamental level, it ensures the project at hand is successful and is supported by the stakeholders. At a higher level, it helps the Procurement professional create an informal network within the organization, strengthening the bonds they have with their peers and growing their reputation and that of the Procurement department.
  3. Engage them – This is the last step in an effective stakeholder management approach. In this respect, Human Centred Design is the way to go. Design Thinking and workshops provide the process and the tools to factor in the interests of different stakeholders’ groups. The Design Thinking process can be effectively used to address a specific challenge or Stakeholder need. With its moments of divergent thinking and convergent thinking creates the perfect environment where new original solutions are generated. Workshops are the perfect way to involve stakeholders in an engaging, fun and effective way, supporting the co-creation of the solution with the people who will use the solution itself. Engagement also goes through a continuous and direct communication flow among all the parties involved to avoid misunderstandings and issues and keeping them abreast of the project development. Good communication also means to understand what are the information needs of the different groups of stakeholders and what are the best tools to convey them.

If you want to unstuck your project, learn how to become a real “Stakeholder Whisperer”.

La versione in Italiano di questo blog è stata pubblicata nel blog di yourCPO: leggi qui!

Want to know more on how to use human-centered design in the procurement area? Read my other blogs on the topic:

The dawn of a new Procurement – Reignite your business with a partnership for growth

Make the difference with services procurement

Policies by design: 5 steps to improve your internal policies management