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Stakeholder Anxiety

As our company grows, so does our number of strategic stakeholders. Managing this growing group of executives is a difficult and delicate task because conflicting interests and a lot of big egos are hard to please. So, what are my tips for dealing with this challenge? I assume I have much to learn myself, but this is my method thus far; I would love to get feedback or pointers from my network so I can improve on my approach.


Not everyone will be happy - This is a fact of life but more important when leading a team or interacting with stakeholders. My father was a career military man, and a tough guy at that. I once asked him whether he would prefer to be liked or feared by his subordinates and he replied “Son, I want to be respected”. I think this is true with stakeholders as well. You can’t please everyone but if you stay the course, communicate your goals and actions, and provide an opportunity for honest feedback from your stakeholders, you will be okay. Additionally, you should accept the fact that not everyone will like you. If you do, you can focus on the task at hand.


Don’t lie - I recently had lunch with a client who told me that I might be too honest for my own good…:-)… and they may be right.  But I do feel that the worst thing you can do with stakeholders that have invested with you and are counting on you is to hide facts or not be truthful. Stakeholders are not stupid and lies will eventually be uncovered.  A stakeholder told me a story about a company they invested in that was supposed to maintain a certain cost structure. After several years they found out that the company had been lying about its costs and profits. That way of doing business is not a long-term strategy and when the truth was discovered, it destroyed the credibility of that company’s executive forever.


Be transparent - As a fan of @RayDalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, I am fascinated by his “radical transparency” approach. I feel that I grew up with this type of philosophy and have paid dearly for speaking without a filter. However, smart stakeholders will appreciate transparency. Mistakes happen but stupidity should not be tolerated! Hiding is not a strategy.


Don’t make promises you can’t keep - When stakeholders try to pull new efforts around their interests, it's easy to be fooled by the promise of new resources and the need to please clients. However, even an unlimited amount of money will not change the basics; it takes time to hire, it takes time for resources to learn the product, and it takes time to implement technology. It's not about the cliché of under promise and over deliver. Simply don’t promise something you aren’t confident you will be able to deliver on.


Be keen on feedback - The first rule of selling is to be able to listen to your client. Feedback is key to building a product but it's not a one-time thing. Companies should set up the right mechanism for continuous feedback. The problem with many stakeholders is that not all feedback is the right feedback. Therefore, a 360-degree evaluation loop should be established as well as a method to try and get consensus from stakeholders. Some will not be happy that their comments were not the first to be incorporated, but if the system is clear about how the company receives and implements client feedback, you will be fine.


Plan in detail - A good product plan is great to share with your stakeholders, but remember, stakeholders come in all shapes and sizes. Line people and executives require different levels of proposals. Plan in detail so that you are always able to provide a clear and structured way of presenting progress which in turn will allow you to manage your stakeholder’s expectations. Also understand that there are senior level interests to manage as well and therefore higher-level planning is needed in order to present your progress to them.


The company’s success should be in sight, not the stakeholder’s company - It is very easy to cater to and indulge your main stakeholders. After all, they are the ones that believed in you from the beginning. However, one needs to keep the interests of the company and its future in clear site, not those of your stakeholders. Resisting the urge to please is hard but if you do not take care of their investment, in the long run you will be responsible for your own failure.


Make it fun- Although this is my last point of advice, it's a very important one. Stakeholders are busy people and many of them feel it's a burden to attend your meetings or spend time with you. So, you should make the experience fun for all. How? It’s up to you and your individual situation. Having fun all of the time is not recommended, but pleasant company, friendly connections and social interactions are key to obtaining a cohesive group of stakeholders.


Good luck!



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