Executive coaching frequently works with clients facing stakeholder difficulties. This is not surprising. Research indicates that at least 80% of projects fail to meet all or significant parts of their initial business case. In fact, audit reports of such projects typically note that stakeholder relations were inadequate and contributed to the failures.

The difficulty faced by coaching clients with stakeholders arise from the predominant view that stakeholders are only those with direct links to the project. This partial definition overlooks many sources of influence on the work from non-direct stakeholders, which often determines the outcome.

The effect of influence on projects and individual careers is obvious but the identification of its sources beyond direct stakeholders can be difficult. When direct and other influencers are identified, strategies can be developed, tested and implemented to manage the influence.

Non-direct stakeholders who influence projects (and people’s careers) can come from unanticipated areas. For example, the holding company of a subsidiary consulting firm working on the project can negatively influence that project through relationships with, say the Board of the client’s organisation, even if the consulting firm itself appears supportive. Also, a direct stakeholder may be a surrogate for a remote organisation such as a professional or trade organisation.

Several key steps to the identification of sources of influence, from my experience are:

  1. Acknowledge to project team and committee the need to look beyond direct stakeholders.
  2. Request each team and committee member to independently identify influencers.
  3. List all identified influencers without negotiating – accept all suggestions.
  4. Consider the interrelationships between influencers: a sort of web of influence.
  5. Assign positive, negative or neutral character of the influence.
  6. Develop and monitor strategies to manage influence.

Processes and techniques to implement these steps are proposed by clients and become the subject of coaching sessions. The next few posts will outline some experiences in developing and managing the approach outlined here.

The frequently quoted Standish Group study found that: 83.9% information system projects failed either to some extent or completely, and 52.0% cost more than 189% of their original estimate. More recent studies confirmed these findings.

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