In any workplace, working to influence stakeholders is required in order to do our jobs. This might be necessary in order to obtain approval for something we’re doing, to get buy-in for an idea or to review the draft report that’s about to be published.
Most likely when you are communicating with important stakeholders, they’re likely to be time-poor and fairly ruthless in how they manage their day. Even if you think you have a good relationship with them and you don’t foresee an issue with what you’re trying to do, these people or organisations often have the power to put up roadblocks that can severely inconvenience you, or even stop what you’re doing altogether. They have to be approached in such a way as to get them interested in what you’re doing. There are several ways to help to achieve this.
To influence stakeholders, remember to emphasise the “what’s in it for me?”
Many new leaders hit a roadblock when trying to influence stakeholders because they forget an important aspect. They forget to emphasise the reasons why the person should be interested in helping them. In other words, the stakeholder is asking “what’s in it for me?”, or “why should I take time out of my day to do this extra work?”.
Be sure to include good reasons for your request – an example might be
“We would like your input on [x] in order to ensure that the requirements of your department are factored into our work”.
If you read this a different way, you are really saying “If you don’t respond, we are not going to take your department into account in our work.” (but in a nice way). This can be very effective in receiving a favourable, timely response. Worded poorly, it could be perceived as a threat, so be careful if you use this approach when dealing with influential stakeholders.
Influence stakeholders by creating a sense of urgency
Another way to induce someone to become interested is to put a timeline on your request. If it seems like they can ignore the request for weeks until getting around to it, they’re less likely to devote time to that activity in the short term.
If you can, try not to make the timeline too short. This will likely cause annoyance that the person wasn’t consulted earlier, and could result in a refusal of your request in the desired timeframe. One way to combat this is to prepare the stakeholder well ahead of time, that they should expect your request in the next [x] weeks.
Influence stakeholders by asking for advice or feedback
People like being asked for their opinion and generally, they like to help others. In your request, it can be helpful to phrase the request as seeking feedback from an experienced or knowledgeable party. This is a form of mild flattery that can be helpful in getting a favourable response. No need to overdo it, you can simply modify your request in order to include this aspect.
For example, “Based on your extensive involvement with [x] last year, we’d appreciate your input into [y] just to help us verify our thinking in this area.”. You could see how the receiving party would feel like their input is critical to success when reading the response.
Influence stakeholders by helping them, asking for nothing in return
Helping people makes you feel good right? Well, yes. But it also makes your job easier in the long run. If you are dealing with stakeholders that an hour’s worth of work done, why not jump in and help? You needn’t try to shoulder everyone’s workload, but if you help people strategically it can be beneficial.
Your work will become that much easier if you have already banked a small favour along the way. One day someone might just return it.
It’s easy to say “it’s not my job”, but sometimes it’s better to make it your job for a minute and help others out for no immediate benefit to yourself.
It’s always difficult dealing with influential stakeholders. You can’t force them to do anything. Use the approaches above to minimise the threat of roadblocks in your work. Good luck!
Have you had experience trying to influence stakeholders? How did you influence them, and did it work? I’d love to hear from you about this topic.