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How to Align Your Stakeholders

You’re in a meeting presenting to your stakeholders, what you thought, was a perfectly formulated delivery plan, when you’re faced with one of these dreaded statements:

“Where did you get…?”

“Why did/didn’t you…?”

“I don’t remember…”

“This isn’t correct.”

You quickly realize your stakeholders are not all in agreement and any changes could have a real impact to your project. Now, it’s important to get their concerns captured correctly and ensure agreement before moving forward.

Rather than panic, here are six steps to align your stakeholders:

1. Identify alignment gaps

Understand exactly where alignment is needed and where stakeholders’ perspectives may differ. (i.e., What problem needs to be solved?) It’s then critical to verify information with the project team, incorporate their feedback and ensure agreement to speak with one cohesive voice. To avoid adding to the confusion and appearing disorganized, don’t present to other stakeholders until the project team has reached an agreement.

2. Set the stage

Complex conversations can quickly go down a rabbit hole. It’s important to stay focused and relay meeting guidelines in advance to keep the conversation moving. Keep these key pieces in mind:

  • Go over the agenda

    Provide an agenda a few days before the meeting that outlines the desired outcome, dedicated time and any action items for participants to prepare beforehand. When the meeting starts, restate the purpose of the meeting, the desired outcome and how you’re going to reach that goal. For example:

    “The purpose of this meeting is to verify we have all deliverables captured and prioritized in order of importance to the project. To achieve this outcome, we’re going to walk through a current list of priorities that are listed on the screen, verify we have all priorities captured and update the list accordingly. Then, we’ll discuss what deliverables need to move higher or lower in prioritization and why. At the end of this meeting, we will have a final list of prioritized deliverables that we have all agreed upon. Any questions before we begin?”

  • Include all stakeholders

    Each stakeholder brings unique insights and reacts differently to new information. Avoid a game of telephone where messages can get distorted when relayed separately. This way, all stakeholders are hearing the same questions and proposed resolutions at the same time.

  • Share your screen

    Set up a conference call with screen-sharing capabilities. While face-to-face communication is ideal, it’s often not realistic. In most instances, a conference call and screen-sharing solution is required (e.g., GoTo Meeting or WebEx). All stakeholders don’t need to be in the same room, but everyone joining the call should see the same information. Are a few people joining the meeting remotely? Make sure everyone participating joins the conference call and can view any shared screens. Avoid doing anything off camera (e.g., white-boarding) unless everyone on the call can easily see the board.

    All stakeholders don't need to be in the same room, but everyone joining the call should see the same information.

3. Visualize it

Provide the right visual to assist the conversation. Even a simple document can work. By providing a visual of concrete information, it will eliminate uncertainty and verify whether everyone’s feedback was correctly incorporated. For example:

  • When discussing timelines and prioritizing deliverables, include a Gantt chart that can be edited in real time.
  • If reviewing budget implications, provide a budget and workforce tracker that’s tied to deliverables and/or team members.
  • Use a risk log for reviewing project risks.

4. Ask questions and listen

If stakeholders don’t agree, ask questions and listen to their responses. Do you understand what’s driving their decisions? If not, ask. Try providing a fixed time period for each person to share their viewpoint to keep the meeting moving. However, in some highly political conversations, it’s also important to stay flexible and understand what perspective each person brings to the table. Adapt to the environment, and stay open-minded.

5. Make real-time updates

When possible, be prepared to make real-time updates to visuals or documents so stakeholders can see the impact of the changes. Real-time updates will verify feedback was correctly understood and ensure everyone receives the same information. Ideally, at the end of the conversation, agreement will be reached in areas where perspectives once differed. Plus, there will be an updated visual to share with the rest of the team that documents final decisions made and the items discussed.

6. Follow up for future success

Send any updated visuals, a list of decisions and follow-up items immediately following the meeting. Check in with key stakeholders to be sure they agree with the final outcome and see if they have any concerns moving forward. Incorporate their feedback to improve future meetings. Depending on the stakeholder, it may also help to establish a weekly 1:1 touch-base to regularly discuss progress, risks, concerns and long-term goals. This ongoing communication builds trust and provides a direct communication channel to address difficult conversations if they arise.

There’s a lot at stake when trying to get everyone on the same page. These steps will help address different perspectives, keep the conversation focused and allow multiple stakeholders to collaborate to reach agreement. Have a question or need a hand? Reach out to us. We’d love to help.

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