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You are not alone: working with stakeholders and role models

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With big challenges at work, sometimes it feels like we digital types are all on our own. The weight of the project can feel like it’s totally resting on our shoulders. And no wonder: digital implementation shines the brightest light on all – even the tiniest dysfunctionalities of an organisation.

Always remember that you are not alone. I bet that if you think of a time when you came across a massive challenge on a project and overcame it, advice and support from your colleagues and stakeholders formed part of the solution.

With this in mind, don’t simply ask stakeholders to support the outcome of your project. This seems quite transactional to me. Instead, give them agency by proactively building a circle of trust where they are involved and acknowledged. Yes, this does take longer, but it reduces the number of problems you need to fix afterwards.

Are you a submarine or a tanker?

A friend and colleague once described the choice of a person embarking on a big change project like this:

“You can choose to be a submarine – people see you at the beginning and they see you at the end. Your journey is very quick but they have no idea what happened underwater. Or you can be a tanker – everyone can see you at every step in the journey. You are huge and slooooow but everyone feels that they know where you’ve been.”

Both approaches are valid for different circumstances. On that occasion I chose to be a submarine. We did some amazing things, quickly. But the amount of time I had to spend fixing things with stakeholders at the end of the project made me think that if I’d chosen to be a tanker we’d probably have gotten there a bit slower but we’d have ended the project with much happier stakeholders.

You create allies by thinking carefully about your project goals from your stakeholders’ perspective. From their point of view, complete these phrases: “I would think this is a success if…” or “I would consider this proposal if…” Better yet, ask them directly what they’d like to see happen, and find out what you have in common.

Don’t just suspect that someone might be hostile to your project. You don’t know what they are thinking, so ask them! Then practice deep listening to help you address their real concerns and get them onside.

Learning by role models

There’s no greater compliment than someone saying: “I feel that I could learn from you”. A respected colleague whose way of working you admire makes an ideal role model – not least because you can ask them for advice fairly informally. A role model doesn’t have to be more senior or more experienced; they need to be really good at something that you want to do. Which also means that you can have different role models for different things.

You can use conferences, seminars, blogs and social media to discover role models from different organisations who are likely to be delighted to share their war stories and let you in on the secrets of their success with similar projects. This can be formalised into a mentoring or coaching relationship, but it doesn’t have to be.

Remember those role models in the public eye, too. You can find inspirational people by scrolling on Instagram, watching TED Talks, or reading the autobiographies of successful people – any place that people are open about their thought processes, and the steps they took to get where they are in life. Put yourself in their shoes and from that perspective think about how they would think about your project and situation. It’s a great way of getting out of the vicious circle of the same thought process we often fall into.

When times get tough in a change process you will almost certainly find that your colleagues and stakeholders are happy to help, and sometimes they may not even be aware of it. You never need to walk alone.

Join a whole group of inspiring peers and potential role models at this year’s Digital Leadership Forum, held 8-9 May 2019 in London. Find out more or get in touch.