Mastering Stakeholder Buy-In: 4 Steps To Gaining and Maintaining Support On Large Scale Projects

Large-scale projects often require buy-in from not only high-level stakeholders, but also from a large number of mid-level managers and their direct reports. Reaching consensus among senior executives is complicated enough, but gaining widespread support for your project can seem almost impossible as each stakeholder typically makes decisions based on the “what’s in it for me/my department” perspective.

Therefore, before presenting a formal proposal to executives, make sure you know exactly what’s in it for each stakeholder. What do they care about? How will this impact their department? What is their personality type? Are they numbers-driven or more impressed with the overall vision? The impact on the individual “end users” of the project should also be addressed. Viewing the project through multiple lenses enables you to better prepare for challenges and initial objections to the proposal.

Getting Input Early: Pre-Selling Your Ideas

Successful executives rarely, if ever, go into a meeting proposing something they haven’t already evangelized to each stakeholder beforehandº. In fact “neglecting to engage key stakeholders early and often is one of the most common points of failureª.” Getting input from stakeholders prior to officially proposing a project or initiative allows the presenter to proactively address each person’s needs and offer tradeoffs or solutions for areas that may cause conflict. Addressing issues before the official meeting presents a better, more professional image in addition to increasing the likelihood of gaining the necessary stakeholder support.

Going In With The Right Mindset: How To Approach Stakeholder Buy-Ins

As with most things in life, you need the right mindset, beginning with a clear understanding of the potential roadblocks ahead. Executives don’t often provide quick approvals for large-scale projects. Those proposing or leading large-scale projects should realize that their ideas and plans will often be scrutinized and modified, especially in the early proposal stagesª. Knowing that executives “will stretch, pull, and modify the recommendations” beforehand will not only let you prepare for their reactions, but let you be proactive in having a solution to any objectionª.

Maintaining Buy-In: Communicate Often And Communicate Clearly

Once the project begins, keeping the lines of communication open between project owners and stakeholders not only decreases the risk of confusion and delay, but it also reinforces stakeholder buy-in. Project leaders need to communicate project milestones, achievements and potential roadblocks, clearly and consistently. Clear and concise communication leaves little room for confusion and error.

According to Raj Sharma’s October 2008 article in Supply Chain Management Review there are four stakeholder communication categoriesª:

Awareness: This touches upon building general knowledge of the project and how the program will benefit each stakeholder. Some methods of communications include videos, microsites or even flyers/brochures that discuss overall business objectives, stakeholder support and details on how the program will benefit the business as a whole as well as the end users.

Program/Performance: This involves keeping the stakeholders aware of the stage and progress of the project. Areas covered include budget, schedule documents, program contacts, etc.

Change Management: This refers to communicating directly with the front line users whose jobs will change with project implementation. This includes outlining change requirements, any incentive programs, implementation timelines, etc.

Knowledge Transfer: This pertains to having key findings, lesson learned and best practices easy accessible to all stakeholders.

These communications are easily managed by email and a dedicated intranet site.

For more in-depth information on stakeholder communication categories please reference the below article informationª.

Creating Communities for Stakeholder Buy-In

Creating communities is most important within larger companies where departments often remain siloed. The purpose of creating a community, or cross-departmental team, is to foster “sustainable, long-term program results and for strengthening organizational performance as a wholeª.” Stakeholders are more likely to buy in when they feel their department(s) are represented and are on the front lines of implementation.

The key to getting stakeholder buy-in comes down to taking the time to understand each stakeholder’s needs before actually presenting the project proposal. The project proposal should then show a clear costs/benefits analysis for each stakeholder. Next, the project leader should incorporate initial feedback from each stakeholder prior to the project proposal meeting. Proactively anticipating stakeholder needs and receiving pre-meeting feedback will help you gain the consensus needed for large-scale projects.

ª Sharma, Raj. “The 6 Principles of Stakeholder Management.” Supply Chain Management Review. N.p., 1 Oct. 2008. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.

º Williamson, Sally. Leading Executive Conversations. Publication. Atlanta: Sally Williamson & Associates, 2014. Print. ISBN 978-0-9837069-4-6, Library of Congress Control Number: 2014911681