Mindful Stakeholder Engagement

This post is written by Kathy Berkidge of Mind at Work Consulting. I first met Kathy at a conference and I was absolutely blown away by her presentation, and I’m so pleased she agreed to write an article. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! — Adrian


Effective stakeholder engagement can mean the difference between successful project delivery and project failure. We BAs work closely with stakeholders to understand their needs and ensure they are translated into solution requirements. If we don’t engage with our stakeholders successfully, requirements may be missed or misinterpreted leading to products and services that fail to deliver the outcomes expected.

There are many barriers that may affect a stakeholder’s engagement, including:

  • Lack of vision or not understanding the project context
  • Resistance to share information
  • Failure to understand what’s in it for them
  • Misinterpretation of their needs
  • Lack of available time
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of trust
  • Previous history or negative perceptions from past experiences and projects
  • Fear of change

Also, stakeholders often have very different expectations on what is, or is not, going to change. Something that seems like an improvement to one group of stakeholders may be perceived as a retrograde step for others. For example, an energy company that wants householders to download an app to submit meter readings and receive bills – the householders just want to keep things the same as they are now – it’s much easier!

So we must plan our approach carefully to establish, maintain and monitor effective working relationships with our stakeholders. Conducting stakeholder analysis helps us understand various stakeholder types, perspectives and attitudes to ensure they are engaged and will work with us to deliver successful project outcomes. There are many tools and techniques to perform stakeholder analysis including power/interest matrix, RACI, personas, and onion diagrams etc. However, we also need to analyse the mindset of our stakeholders – a deeper level of analysis – to understand how they will react in various situations, and how we may respond to them.

By examining their perceptions, beliefs and opinions we can identify how we can best work with them to understand their needs, while maintaining healthy, productive relationships. This means we must also know ourselves sufficiently, so we can adapt to situations that arise with them, while avoiding causing misunderstanding, confusion or conflict. We must be willing to look within ourselves to understand how our behaviour, words and postures may be perceived. This is where mindfulness is needed.

Mindfulness enables greater self-awareness to help us remain conscious of how we are acting and being perceived when engaging our stakeholders. It allows us to put our own perceptions and beliefs aside to see things accurately, as they are with clarity, free from our own assumptions. We remain open to new ideas and willing to see things differently, from their point of view, dropping our own preconceived notions. Mindfulness helps us be more aware and attuned to our stakeholders’ needs and attitudes while remaining calm and considered in our approach even with the most challenging stakeholders.

Mindfulness also helps us focus, remain present and truly listen to our stakeholders to better understand their needs. They need to feel as though their needs are important. They want to share their challenges, wishes and insights. And stakeholders can sense whether you are listening or not, as this great quote from Maya Angelou says, “People won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”. We can help our stakeholders feel heard, understood and that we care about their needs.

The ‘Stakeholder Engagement Canvas’ is a technique I developed that helps us perform that deeper level of stakeholder analysis. This tool looks at various aspects of the stakeholder’s mindset in context to the project as well as examining how best we can be more mindful during our engagement with them.

Stakeholder canvas. Sections:
Stakeholder
Them
Needs
Goals & Objectives
Context
Activities
Outcome
Me
Engagement Risks
Engagement Practices
Stakeholder Engagement Canvas. Click on the image to see a larger version.

The canvas contains nine areas to analyse to develop a clear picture of how best we can engage with the stakeholder. By examining each element thoroughly, we can formulate a mindful engagement plan to assure successful engagement. While best used to analyse one stakeholder at a time, it could be used to analyse a group or category of stakeholders.

Here’s an example Stakeholder Engagement Canvas for a stakeholder, John McKenzie, a marketing manager of a medium sized furniture store:

Stakeholder canvas. Sections:
Stakeholder
Them
Needs
Goals & Objectives
Context
Activities
Outcome
Me
Engagement Risks
Engagement Practices

This is a fairly detailed diagram: Should you be using assistive technology and require an audio described version, let us know. We'll gladly record one and send it to you directly.
Stakeholder Engagement Canvas. Click on the image to see a larger version.

With all the elements explored and considered, now we can put together an action plan that will ensure we can effectively work with John and employ various mindfulness techniques to build rapport, trust and engagement.

Find Out More

To learn more about applying mindfulness to stakeholder engagement, and to use the ‘Stakeholder Engagement Canvas’, join our “Successful Stakeholder Engagement” course on April 13. Be sure to check out the event information and register your place.

This course will teach you mindfulness and how to apply it in building more successful stakeholder engagement, as well as to use the canvas to plan, analyse and monitor stakeholder engagement.

Successful stakeholder engagement starts with understanding ourselves. Mindfulness helps us look deeply at ourselves and our stakeholders to build effective, and harmonious, stakeholder relationships.


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About The Author
Kathy is a BA professional with 30 years of experience in I.T. She delivers BA and agile training and coaching to many organisations in Australia and around the world. Since 1999, Kathy has been studying, practicing and teaching mindfulness. Kathy works with teams and individuals to implement mindfulness practices to improve teamwork, be more innovative and deliver better customer value. She is passionate about seeing people, teams and organisations succeed and thrive in an environment of collaboration and harmony.


Successful Stakeholder Engagement Course - Picture of Kathy Berkidge and link to course

3 thoughts on “Mindful Stakeholder Engagement”

  1. Kathy, thank you. Your article really hit home for me when I went through the canvas example (Mathematicians learn by an abstraction, everyone else learns by example). They standout sticky was in the Context box; it said “Hates the current website”. I have never thought of anybody hating something as being part of their context. Thank you for that insight, and thank you for a thoughtful and helpful article.

    James.

    1. Thank you James.
      Examining stakeholders’ feelings and attitudes can give us extra insight to their context and what matters to them so we can factor that into our engagement plan. I really appreciate your thoughts and glad you found the article interesting.
      Kathy

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