My wife and I were invited to friends recently. We met a few people we had not met before and the conversation was flowing.
Then, it slowed somewhat when our host asked: what’s the latest with the tennis club? The couple looked at one another and it seemed as though it was automatic their body language changed: raised eyes to the ceiling, slumping shoulders, smiles replaced with a grimace.
Stakeholders argue for over 20 years!
They then explained to those who did not know, that their house backed onto a small tennis club. For over 20 years there have been battles between the club and the couple we were talking to. Access to the club, flood lighting and general noise were only some of the issues mentioned.
Various planning applications from the club to the local council and general disagreement have taken up a lot of their time sapping their energy and emotions. At last, it looks as though there may be a change of heart by the club.
The new executive of the club have asked for a meeting to discuss some new plans – for better floodlighting so that competition matches can be played on the courts. Interestingly, this was only the second time in over 20 years this has happened.
How much did they engage with you?
I asked how the tennis club had tried to engage with them over the 20 plus years. Hardly at all came the immediate response.
I asked a supplementary question; how would it have been if they had for example invited you in for a coffee, or discussed the next 5 year plan, or offered to put trees up to block some of the issues raised? The response was positive. But no one from the tennis club had tried to do this.
Stakeholder management and project management
Now switch to projects. How many of you have really engaged with your stakeholders so they understand what the project will and will not do? Another question; how many of you have worked hard to get your stakeholders to support the project or support some aspect of it?
It is not easy I hear you say, and I agree. But bear this in mind; if you do not get stakeholders on board (this does not mean fully supporting what the project is doing) then you will have the tennis club situation. Resentment on all sides, negative discussions with others (like the one we had) and a general feeling of them against us.
Projects need the support of stakeholders and a thorough analysis and management of your stakeholders is needed and for some a sharpening of those soft skills. The option, just re-read the tennis club example. Maybe it is not as extreme but some elements may ring true.
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