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  • Writer's picturegvalyou

Avoid the Fastest Way To Fail In Business

People Talking

The fastest way to fail in any business endeavor is to not understand or lose sight of what the client values. Understanding their motivations, fears, and drivers is critical to improving the odds of mutual success. This fundamental principle is true in any business situation where you must convince a client to help, support, partner, engage, or buy from you. 

 

It sounds a bit like sales, and it is!  We all have clients, and we all are selling something.

 

The Client–Stakeholder Connection

 

In almost every professional setting, the concept of a "client" extends beyond the conventional boundaries of an internal or external customer seeking services. A client can be anyone from the public to the CEO of a company and everyone in between. Each has unique needs and expectations. This expansive view necessitates a deep understanding of what clients expect and want, supported by effective communication to foster an environment conducive to a successful outcome. Whether in consulting, professional services, sales, tech, or any other sector, your ability to interpret and meet your client's needs is paramount for success.

 

In business terms, clients can be referred to as stakeholders.  Coming from the word “stake,” which is defined as “an interest or share in an undertaking or enterprise.” [1]

 

Who Are Stakeholders?

 

Stakeholders can be anyone with an interest in, is impacted by, or has influence over a business outcome. This encompasses:

 

Customers or Users

Individuals or businesses that use, receive, or purchase a product or service.

 

Managers

People who oversee work processes and outcomes.

 

Executives

High-level personnel who define a business’s strategy and are crucial in decision-making.

 

Peers

Colleagues whose work interfaces with yours, influencing your performance and vice versa.

 

Suppliers and Partners

External entities that provide services or products necessary for business operations.

 

The Public

In today's connected world, the general public often significantly impacts business through social media and online platforms, influencing perceptions and reputation.  This is an especially important group of stakeholders to consider in the public sector and government.

 

A Few Helpful Tips


Organizational Charts and Business Process are a Good Start


Looking at an organizational chart or following a business process may visually help this process.


Think Beyond the Obvious

 

Moving beyond seeing stakeholders only as those we serve directly in a typical customer-provider relationship is essential. Think outside the room. Understanding who the clients of your clients are helps create a comprehensive view and can uncover hidden drivers and motivations of your direct stakeholders.


Leave No Stone Unturned


It also can be useful to think about who may not be a stakeholder. You may uncover a hidden stakeholder that was not so obvious before. Sometimes, oppositely framing the question provides a new perspective.

 

Why Stakeholders Matter

 

Understanding each stakeholder group as a whole and individually allows professionals to tailor their strategies and communication better to meet diverse and sometimes competing expectations. It ensures that solutions are not just delivered but are effective and valued by all involved parties, creating a harmonious and productive work environment. What they think and say matters as stakeholders often are the final determinant of success. 

 

Developing strong stakeholder relationships is crucial for building political capital as it fosters trust and credibility among key individuals or groups. When faced with challenges or negotiations, establishing positive relationships and trust can lead to smoother interactions and increased cooperation, ultimately facilitating problem-solving and decision-making. Moreover, maintaining good stakeholder relationships can provide a supportive network during times of crisis, offering valuable insights, resources, and allies to navigate difficulties effectively. Stakeholder capital can also provide the opportunity and room to fix a problem or issue others may not receive due to a positive history and connection.  

 

The Importance of Understanding Stakeholders

 

Recognizing and addressing a stakeholder’s unique needs and motivations is fundamental to any professional's success. Misunderstandings or misalignments between stakeholders’ expectations and the outcomes can lead to dissatisfaction and potentially jeopardize business relationships and outcomes.

 

Aligning Expectations with Reality

 

Understanding stakeholders involves more than just knowing their roles; it requires a deep dive into their specific expectations, concerns, and ultimate goals. For example, a manager might prioritize efficiency and cost-effectiveness, whereas the end user might focus on usability and performance. Successfully delivering solutions that align with these varied expectations is vital to fostering trust and credibility.

 

The Consequences of Misunderstanding

 

A lack of understanding can lead to solutions that could be better, resulting in wasted resources and lost time. In severe cases, it can damage professional reputations and lead to the loss of business or employment opportunities. Therefore, investing time in understanding the true drivers behind a stakeholder’s needs is crucial.

 

Communication as a Tool for Success

 

Effective communication is crucial for conveying information and genuinely connecting with and understanding stakeholder needs. It's about mutual understanding and aligning messages with stakeholders' expectations.

 

Transparent and Open Dialogue

 

Establishing a culture of openness where stakeholders feel heard and understood is vital. This includes regular updates, meetings, and feedback sessions that foster an environment of trust and transparency. Open dialogue helps preempt misunderstandings and aligns project goals with stakeholder expectations.

 

Listening and Observing

 

Read the room. Active listening and keen observation are essential to effective communication. By genuinely listening to what stakeholders say—and noting what they do not say—professionals can gain deeper insights into their actual concerns and motivations. Observing non-verbal cues in meetings or day-to-day interactions can provide additional context that might not be captured through words alone. This approach ensures that the feedback and responses are heard, thoroughly understood, and appropriately addressed. This is one of the main challenges today due to remote meetings and the distributed world. If possible, be there and be present; stakeholders are more than their faces on a screen.

 

Be Empathetic

 

Put yourself in each stakeholder’s shoes.  They will often be doing or considering something new and different. “New” can be scary and stressful. Empathy in stakeholder management fosters trust and understanding, helps ensure that and acknowledges a stakeholder’s needs and concerns, and can help cultivate goodwill and collaboration. Remember, stakeholders often think about how something impacts them personally and professionally.

 

Adapting Communication Styles

 

Different stakeholders may have different preferences for how they receive communication. While some may prefer detailed reports and emails, others might value brief, face-to-face interactions, informal updates via digital tools, or quick texts. Adapting your communication style to match the stakeholder's preference can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the interaction.  When in doubt, ask.

 

Use of Technology to Enhance Communication

 

Leveraging current communication tools—collaboration software, instant messaging platforms, and social media—can help keep all stakeholders informed and actively engaged, regardless of geographical location. These tools facilitate a continuous exchange of ideas and feedback, which is essential for dynamic and fast-paced business environments. 

 

Tips for Successfully Understanding Stakeholder Needs

 

Effectively understanding stakeholder needs goes beyond initial assessments and involves continuous engagement and evaluation. Here are practical tips to ensure a deep and accurate understanding of stakeholder motivations and needs:

 

Explain the Why

 

People like to understand why something is being done or requested.  It helps explain and validate their importance in the process and provides contextual direction. It sets the stage and shows trust.

 

Engage Regularly and Personally

 

Regular personal engagement helps build relationships and trust, which are crucial for open communication. Regular touchpoints allow stakeholders to express concerns and provide real-time feedback, which can be pivotal for effectively adjusting strategies and operations.

 

Ask the Right Questions

 

Crafting the right questions is an art that can lead to revealing insights about a stakeholder’s actual needs and expectations. Open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses are particularly valuable. For example, instead of asking if they are satisfied with a service, ask what specific aspects of the service could be improved.

 

Listen and Observe

 

Building in the opportunity to listen and observe can help identify and discover subtleties and nuances often missed in regular communications. This can lead to a better understanding of the motivations and constraints, allowing for more effective and empathetic engagement strategies.

 

Validate Understanding

 

After gathering information, it's crucial to validate your understanding by summarizing and restating what you've heard. This practice helps clarify any miscommunications immediately and confirms to stakeholders that their input is valued and understood.

 

Be Responsive to Feedback

 

Responsiveness to positive and negative feedback demonstrates respect for stakeholder input and commitment to meeting their needs. It also helps refine processes and deliverables to better align with stakeholder expectations.

 

Advanced Tools for Stakeholder Analysis

 

Several analytical tools can provide deeper insights for those looking beyond basic techniques to understanding stakeholders. These can apply to a project, sales activity, meeting, workshop, and more.

 

Support Bubble Chart

Visualizes the level of support or opposition stakeholders have, helping prioritize engagement efforts.

 

Influence and Impact Matrix

Assesses stakeholders based on their influence and the impact the project has on them, guiding the focus of communication strategies.

 

Stakeholder Map

Offers a visual overview of all stakeholders involved, their relationships, and their relevance.

 

RACI Matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed)

Clarifies decision-making roles and responsibilities, ensuring everyone knows who is responsible for what.

 

Murray-Webster-Simon Power-Interest-Attitude Cube

A more complex tool that evaluates stakeholders based on their power, interest, and attitude towards the project, providing nuanced insights into managing stakeholder engagement.

 

These and many other tools and strategies can help professionals systematically analyze and categorize stakeholders, enhancing strategic planning and communication efforts.

 

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Stakeholder Engagement

 

When working with stakeholders, navigating interactions carefully is crucial to avoid common missteps that jeopardize relationships and project success.

 

Overlooking Less Vocal Stakeholders

 

Sometimes, the loudest voices capture most of the attention. It's important to actively seek out and consider the opinions of quieter stakeholders who may have significant insights or concerns but are less forthcoming.

 

Assuming One-Size-Fits-All Communication Works

 

Different stakeholders often require different communication styles and frequencies. Failing to tailor communication strategies to these needs and preferences can lead to disengagement and misinformation.

 

Neglecting Continuous Engagement

 

Stakeholder needs and the business environment can evolve rapidly. Neglecting continuous engagement can lead to relying on outdated understandings and strategies, which might no longer be relevant or effective.

 

Ignoring Cultural and Personal Differences

 

In today’s globalized work environment, stakeholders may come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Ignoring these differences can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications. Recognizing and respecting cultural and personal differences is essential to foster inclusive and effective communication.

 

Failing to Manage Expectations

 

Setting and managing realistic expectations from the onset of any engagement is critical. Overselling or under-delivering can damage trust and credibility. Clear, honest communication about what can be achieved and the potential challenges helps maintain realistic expectations and trust.

 

Forgetting They Are the Client

 

This one should be first. It was placed at the end of this section to drive home an important takeaway. Stakeholders are clients. They may not be the person directly paying the invoice, but they often determine ultimate success.

 

These additional pitfalls provide a deeper insight into the complexities of stakeholder management. Avoiding these mistakes can significantly enhance the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement strategies.

 

Bringing It All Together


Effective stakeholder engagement is crucial across almost all professional fields, from consulting and customer service to executive management. Understanding who stakeholders are and effectively communicating with them is more than just about exchanging contact information. It is about building relationships based on trust and mutual understanding. The breadth of stakeholders—from managers and peers to customers and the public—requires a nuanced approach to interaction that respects their diverse needs and influences.

 

It is important to gain a deeper understanding of stakeholder dynamics by regularly engaging stakeholders, asking insightful questions, and utilizing advanced tools like the Influence and Impact Matrix or the Murray-Webster-Simon Power-Interest-Attitude Cube. This strategic approach helps tailor communications and decisions that resonate with all involved parties.

 

However, one must be cautious of common pitfalls such as neglecting less vocal or hidden stakeholders, failing to manage expectations effectively, or forgetting they are the client directly or indirectly. Awareness of and avoiding these pitfalls is essential for maintaining strong, productive relationships.

 

Ultimately, the key to successful stakeholder management lies in the continuous refinement of communication strategies, the diligent observation of stakeholder responses, and the flexible adaptation to their evolving needs. With these practices, professionals can ensure that their stakeholder engagements are successful but also sustainable and rewarding.

 

References and Citations


  1. "Stake." Merriam-Webster.com, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stake. Accessed 4 May 2024.

  2. Rigby, D., First, Z., & O’Keeffe, D. (2023, May-June). How to Create a Stakeholder Strategy. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR2303

  3. Lopez, D., Rick, K., & Struebel, H. (n.d.). Stakeholder Management: How Much Relationship Capital Do You Have? BCG Perspectives. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from https://web-assets.bcg.com/img-src/file119020_tcm9-197714.pdf

  4. Interviews with Greg Valyou, April 2024, as part of a new upcoming video and book series

 

Images and Media Cover image, Microsoft Stock Image Photos, April 21, 2024

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