Upfront Stakeholder Buy-In: The Keys to Success

Spend Matters welcomes this post by Jim Kiser, director of consulting at GEP.

Let me ask a question: How much greater success do you believe is possible by gaining strong stakeholder buy-in for any new organizational project? I guess the more important question to ask yourself is, “How likely is a project to have challenges and risk a point of failure if buy-in is not agreed?” I have witnessed both cases, but let’s layout the areas of good stakeholder buy-in and ideas to gain strong engagement for your organization’s project.

Stakeholder buy-in, for lack of a better term, is internal customers, resources and management who would support or oppose the decisions made by the business by internal or external individuals. In essence, gaining stakeholder buy-in is the first step toward involving these key decision makers in the project process in achieving an agreed consensus on their needs linked to the project direction.

Direct Engagement

One of the key areas of stakeholder buy-in is engagement. The idea behind engagement is to start and open dialogue between all stakeholders of interest in which the project has interest or impact to their department within an organization. The project executive or lead should clearly communicate what the goals, mission and plans are for the project and the overall benefits it can achieve. More importantly, it should explain what parts of the organization and people it will affect positively or negatively. And that should be discussed in the front end of the engagement.

Beginning, Middle and End

It is also very important to gain upfront, midpoint and end deliverable feedback on proposed plans and listen to suggestions for improvement from stakeholders. These communications between the business and its stakeholders are engaging ways to opt for buy-in from those directly affected by the organization's strategies and plans. It is important to keep in mind that many times projects start not only without agreement between all important parties but also, in some cases, without all critical stakeholders being involved in the process at all or involved too little on key areas that should be discussed upfront. This leads to many downstream problems in projects, from delays involving scope creep, conflicts over project priorities, internal bureaucracy, cost, timing and eventually sometimes overall failure of the stated project goals from the start.

Here are some simple steps in gain buy-in from stakeholders:

  • Identify and ensure you include all internal stakeholders in the process
  • Understand their departmental needs and language
  • Involve key stakeholders early in process
  • Provide clear rationale behind the project (goals/purpose/intent)
  • Be clear about benefits
  • Identify real and potential risks or issues and discuss how best to manage
  • Listen and communicate feedback and agree on stakeholder needs, concerns or ideas

In short, gaining agreement on the rules of project engagement is important in the beginning toward securing needed buy-in. This lays out the roles and responsibilities of all parties and, ideally, makes it clear to key stakeholders that their voices will be heard and their insight or opinions are taken seriously. Building this internal trust is essential for buy-in.

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First Voice

  1. Barb Ardell:

    Solid advice. However, we also need to change the way we change minds. We tend to rely much too heavily on verbal persuasion to get people on board. Verbal persuasion is notoriously ineffective. We put people into a PowerPoint coma where all they hear is “wah, wah, wah”. We can be much more effective by connecting to individuals’ values and belief (their emotions) to drive lasting change. Think about the approach “Marketeers” and politicians take. We also tend to underwhelm an overwhelming challenge. Research shows that most times we use only one or two sources of influence. This is just not enough to affect the desired change. If you use four or more sources of influence, which address both motivation and ability from personal, social and structural focuses, you can increase your success tenfold.

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