We all know that insight only makes a difference when our decision makers take it on board and use it, but how much attention do we give to really understanding our stakeholders?
Insight teams are usually pretty good at making sure they understand consumers in order to influence their behaviour, but strangely we often fail to apply the same principles to understanding and influencing decision makers in our organisations.
Decision makers have busy lives, challenging demands and need to make the right decisions under pressure. Sometimes they lack the key information they need, but often they are bombarded by too much information from multiple sources, and inboxes filling with emails on a daily basis.
As Insight professionals, we need to do all we can to help them make the right decisions. We need to offer our best advice, highlighting potential benefits but also any potential downsides and risks.
How can you increase your stakeholder influence?
Is it by gathering better evidence and data? Or by creating a better presentation? Or by using better story telling to deliver it more effectively?
Actually, although all these elements are helpful, none of them really get to the heart of stakeholder influence. Feedback time – your presentation or report – is really too late to start work on stakeholder influence. You will be much more influential if you have them on board beforehand. If they are already ‘bought in’ to you and what you are going to say.
When and how should you start influencing your key stakeholders?
Should your stakeholder influence start at the briefing stage? This is certainly a better time to start, rather than at the feedback stage. Never take a brief at face value – always question and probe to uncover the real business issue and its potential impact. This is also your opportunity to have a dialogue with the key stakeholder, to try to get to the heart of the issue that they are facing. If you establish rapport at that stage, and play back your understanding of their challenge in question, they are far more likely to value you, and be eagerly awaiting your feedback later on.
Ideally, your stakeholder influence should start in advance of the briefing stage
Working with a wide range of Insight teams over the last decade, we have found that the most influential teams are the ones who have shifted from focusing on a series of requests and projects, to instead focusing on the organisation, its priorities and its key decision makers. They invest time in understanding key stakeholders and their challenges.
Instead of working remotely and waiting for briefs, these successful Insight teams make a point of getting closer to the key stakeholders whom they know they need to influence. You may think you are too busy, but if you make it a priority it will pay dividends. You need to understand the world of decision makers in general, and the individual preferences of key individuals.
Our 3 top tips for managing stakeholders and decision makers to increase your influence
If you are leading an Insight team, there are 3 key steps to increasing your influence through stakeholder management:
- Identify the stakeholders that you want to influence and assign responsibilities across your team
- Task your team members with understanding and building rapport with these key contacts
- Include this task in everyone’s key objectives to make it a priority
Step 1. Identify stakeholders and assign responsibilities
Who are the key decision makers that you and your team want to influence? Start a list by business area, and prioritise and identify senior decision makers. Then start assigning them to your team members, maybe starting with one or two key relationships for each team member. Build on existing contacts and where there is natural rapport.
Step 2. Build your understanding and rapport
Your starting point should be for each team member to focus on an assigned stakeholder and identify what they know or don’t know about them. What are their KPI’s? What are their key business challenges? How can Insight help them? What are their communication preferences – do they like headlines or detail? Do they need visuals or data? Do they prefer face to face contact, or phone or email? Encourage your team members to seek both formal and informal opportunities to find out more about their key stakeholders, by attending their team meetings or catching them by the coffee machine or water cooler. This won’t come naturally for everyone, and some will need significant encouragement.
Step 3. Make it an important key objective
The only way to make stakeholder management a reality is to add it to everyone’s key objectives. Otherwise the traditional day job takes over, and people stay in their own comfort zone of project management and data analysis. You need to see a behaviour change, with Insight team members mixing with stakeholders, rather than sitting at their laptops all the time.
The new year is a good time for fresh thinking and new approaches. And it’s never too early to start building relationships to increase your influence. Take this opportunity to get out there, be proactive and help your stakeholders make the right decisions.
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