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What to do when Stakeholders are on your side

by | reviewed 23/03/2023
Stakeholder engagement strategies should include plans to utilise positive and influential Stakeholders to help drive organisational change. stakeholder-map.com
Stakeholders can be a useful and positive force by acting as change agents. Change agents transform businesses by encouraging others to change.
A change agent is a person or a thing that is a catalyst for change. Stakeholders who are change agents transform businesses by encouraging others to change. For example by helping to change processes, tools, or behaviours. stakeholder-map.com
Your stakeholder engagement strategies should include plans to utilise positive and influential Stakeholders to help drive the changes you want to make.
positive stakeholders can help influence change

As Bill McElroy and Chris Mills note in the Gower Handbook of Project Management:
Stakeholders should be viewed as having a vital role to play as change agents - positively changing the way others view the project. McElroy and Mills, p. 763
They draw a distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' projects. Hard being delivery of a tangible item, for example a road or software and soft being focused on less tangible deliverables like changing behaviours or attitudes. Stakeholders are more likely to be useful change agents on soft projects - in these cases the stakeholder's own experience and networks (social connections) can help them to influence others.

How to use positive stakeholders

McElroy and Mills give some examples of how champion stakeholder can be used as change agents on soft projects:
  • persuading people to change working practices
  • getting staff to think differently about profit
  • asking customers to purchase in new ways
On hard projects positive stakeholders can help with marketing, training or by helping other stakeholders through their experience of the change. For example, in the UK, Reading University work with volunteers who live near the campus. The volunteers feel positively towards the university and tend to be long established, older residents. They act as change agents by helping the university to maintain good relations with the local area. They are particularly helpful during major campus redevelopments, when they help smooth the impact of the changes. They reduce opposition by door knocking and chatting with residents about their concerns or just by letting residents know what is happening on campus.

To Identify stakeholder change agents, first complete an analysis of your stakeholders which will enable you to identify powerful and interested Stakeholders who can positively influence others. Learn how to analyze your stakeholders.

References and further reading

Turner, R. ed., 2007. Gower Handbook of Project Management, Aldershot: Gower.

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