How to Build Stakeholder Consensus for your Initiative
You have an idea, you need to solve a problem or maybe you just need to get everybody on the same page about a new initiative. Whatever the situation, you need to build momentum amongst your team and peers to drive an initiative forward. Building consensus can be tricky as everyone has their own opinions and agenda which may be different from what you are trying to accomplish.
To be successful, you need a strategy. The following is a four step process to communicate your ideas, validate your approach and obtain buy-in for your initiative.
1. Know where you stand. All good relationships are based on trust and credibility. Trust and credibility are best established through a person’s attributes, behaviors and actions. If you are trying to build consensus, determine how strong your trust and credibility are amongst the group. If you feel that you have a high level of trust, then you have the foundation to move forward. If you feel that you lack trust or credibility, you may want to consider working on strengthening your relationships before proceeding.
2. Understand how decisions are made. Team environments are complicated and may consist of a variety of players with different agendas. You may be tasked with getting all of these people pointed in the same direction. However before you begin, you must understand how decisions are made. This information is crucial for you to be effective. The tricky part is that this information will vary from organization to organization and you will likely identify formal power versus informal power in the form of influencers.
To determine how decisions are made:
Start with the obvious. As simple as it may sound, start with information contained organization charts, people’s titles and reporting structure.
Validate the information through observations and interviews. Ask questions such as “Can you make that decision?” “Who made that decision?” “What is that person’s role?” Once decision makers start to emerge, ask questions to determine who the influencers are, such as “Whose advice does the decision maker seek?” or “What is their process for gathering information?”
Observe how decisions are made. Attend meetings or create situations that require decision making. Observe the process, voice tone, body language and facial expressions during debates and the decision making process.
From the steps above you should be able to map out the process required to start communicating issues and building consensus. However, remember to always maintain your foundation of trust and credibility. Sources of power can change quickly in the form of a resignation, reassignment or retirement. A key player leaving the organization can create an entirely new landscape. A good strategist will always use the knowledge of the power structure as protection against project unforeseen changes.
3. Conduct Mini-Briefings. After you have assessed your trust and credibility and determined how decisions are made, it is time to begin communicating the initiative to the team. This process is facilitated through informal discussions or ‘mini-briefings’ held individually with the key team members to gauge the team member’s reaction to the initiative, get their input and discuss strategy.
A ‘mini-briefing’ can be a scheduled event or informal conversation where you provide an overview of the initiative. This pre-discussion serves several purposes:
Ensure that there are no surprises. Make sure everyone is prepared and briefed on key points.
Validate your findings. It is possible that you may have misinterpreted perception of an initiative or support of it. If either is the case, you will save yourself from an embarrassing situation and keep your credibility intact by validating your position ahead of time.
Provide an opportunity to start thinking. Whether it’s about potential solutions or digesting your recommendations, getting everyone on the same page ahead of time helps when you get a group together. If potential initiatives or solutions are complicated, it is good for people to think through them before a formal meeting. It helps everyone to understand the solution and determine the pros and cons to prevent rash decision made by unprepared team members.
4. Obtain Commitment. Now it is time to assemble the team to get formal agreement to move forward. Based on the situation, it is possible that you may need to make some adjustment to your plan. Any number of reasons – time, budget or politics – may prevent the implementation of the solution as you see it. Therefore it’s important to work with the team to find alternative solutions to issues. Once solutions and the go forward plan are established, the solutions should be documented and action items assigned to begin implementation.