CXO

6 ways to increase buy-in from project stakeholders

Gaining trust and cooperation from a project team is imperative for success. Here are some ways to improve communication with stakeholders and make sure they feel like an important part of a team.

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Image: iStock/imtmphoto

Buy-in can be a difficult thing to quantify, especially within various stakeholder categories. Without full buy-in from team members, sponsors and other stakeholders, projects may seem to be progressing smoothly and then suddenly take a sharp turn for the worst, risking the final deliverables and customer satisfaction. Depending on the reasons for the change, this can pose significant challenges for project managers when trying to get things back on track. Here are six ways to increase stakeholder buy-in through each stage of a project and smooth a path towards success.

1. Identify what motivates stakeholders

If you can gain an understanding of what motivates each stakeholder, it can become much easier to get a larger share of stakeholder buy-in. This may seem time-consuming up front but can help significantly maintain buy-in as a project progresses. Within the same company, individuals and teams may be motivated by completely different things. Teams may be motivated by financial rewards like bonuses or raises or performance benchmarks, while individuals may be motivated by work-life balance or opportunities for career growth. A key to being able to establish higher degrees of buy-in is in establishing the link between project and company goals and stakeholder values and motivations. This does not need to be a secret mission, but instead a direct dialogue with stakeholders to help identify and establish the linkage. It's important to note that it may not always be possible to meet all the factors that motivate stakeholders.

2. Focus on telling the truth, even when it isn't what stakeholders want to hear

Building a culture of trust is vital if you expect stakeholders to buy into a project and execute tasks to the best of their abilities. Overall, environmental factors such as low morale, negative culture, and lack of trust could make stakeholders believe their contribution isn't valuable. If stakeholders feel there is a disconnect with a project manager, sponsor, team, functional unit, customer, or the company, they are likely to have a deep sense of distrust.

Get serious about the impact of this issue - it can have the power to ruin projects quickly. Be transparent about any issues that may be of concern and solicit feedback from key stakeholders. Avoid offering solutions that you are unsure you can deliver on. Rather, say, "I don't know, but I will look into that and let you know." Most stakeholders will be more trusting of you if you tell them the truth even if the answer isn't what they prefer. Be honest about issues and remain objective about solutions as this too can help to establish trusting relationships and increase buy-in.

SEE: IT project cost/benefit calculator (Tech Pro Research)

3. Make sure stakeholders understand their contribution to a project

Once you've been able to identify individual stakeholder motivations and focus on gaining their trust, drawing a direct line between what motivates them and project goals becomes much simpler. Determine how project goals benefit stakeholders and communicate this, allowing stakeholders to share their concerns and ideas. It is much easier to solidify buy-in if stakeholders fully understand how their contributions impact a project and how the project outcome impacts them in return. When the lines are blurred, it can create confusion and reduced interest, make sure you are able to clearly define their direct role and the project goals in relation to the other.

4. Reaffirm goals and communicate progress throughout execution

It's not enough to set goals and establish a linkage between stakeholder performance at the beginning of a project. Throughout execution, project managers should ensure they reaffirm goals and update stakeholders on the progress. This information is useful in ensuring stakeholders are engaged from the beginning of a project to close. Often once a project is being executed, it becomes assumed that stakeholders understand their role and can remain focused on deliverables. This assumption can easily become a pitfall that derails a project. It's important to remind stakeholders about project goals and their role in reaching those goals throughout the project to avoid decreased buy-in.

SEE: How to keep your staff motivated and engaged (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

5. Remain consistent

Make sure to remain consistent in what you say and how often you communicate. As the project leader, your responsibility is to provide guidance and consistency throughout every stage of the project. Stakeholders need to know you are always there, always approachable, and consistent. This provides stakeholders with the much-needed stability necessary to remain vested.

6. Provide positive feedback after the project ends

It isn't enough to only provide feedback on lessons learned at the end of a project. If you simply offer feedback around needed improvements, you are unlikely to re-establish trust or gain buy-in on the next project. Once a project has wrapped up, remember to thank your team and other stakeholders for their contributions and commitment; also, provide positive feedback about how stakeholder activities may have helped throughout project execution. This last step is simply considered good leadership.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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