When James approached me to write an article on what makes for good stakeholder management from an L&D professional, I could hardly say no. I have known James for more years than I care to add up and we have delivered some great things together over the years. However, it got me thinking about the ask… What makes for good stakeholder management from L&D? But also, what did I want from my L&D colleagues? And did meeting that objective make them good or bad?
Having spent many years as a ‘stakeholder’ in these situations, I always thought I knew what I wanted; I just wanted the recipients to embrace the change. This, in my head, is easier when you are replacing a system with a better one or making a change to an operating model to make for better ways of working. They all involve change, and that is dealt with differently by different people, so experts are needed to land this properly. You can build/design a great new ‘thing’ but if no one understands how to use it, or why they need it then it will fail, and fail big!
It’s always good to reflect after delivery of a Programme or Project. But the majority of the ones that I have managed have ended up squeezing the end-to-end testing teams at the end of the process. They also often annoyed my colleagues in learning/training with late delivery of screenshots, changes to functionality and a few workarounds that we accept to hit a delivery deadline.
Understanding the project lifecycle and vision is crucial for an L&D professional. It’s never smooth and perfect, we never have enough time and money, but if you understand what we are trying to achieve then we are halfway there.
Trust needs to be built up early on
After all, you are going to communicate to the end users why this is a good thing for them and the message you give is paramount to the successful landing of the deliverable. Time management is key. Senior stakeholders are busy, so using your soft skills to engage them in a 30-minute chat about the football is great, but when your meeting with them is 30 mins long then it may leave you (and them) no further forward.
Set an agenda for meetings. Be honest. Stakeholders are good at managing risk so tell them what’s good and what’s bad, give the options and make recommendations. You are the professionals, so we respect your opinion.
Manage our expectations
Tell us what can and cannot be done within the confines of cost and time. Often time is not extendable as delivery dates get reported to boards and shareholders but spending more to land the message/training is often money well spent.
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, you know your stuff and are the expert. You know the best way to land the message so make sure this comes across in your meetings; soundbites of feedback travel a long way.
Keep your stakeholders in the loop
I worked with a great Learning Lead who used to send me an email with 4 or 5 bullet points summarising the message/ask, then the detail followed below. She knew how busy I was, and I would know from the bullet points that things were going well, or if I had an action to respond to.
Build the relationship and keep stakeholders appraised. In the delivery world, a stakeholder has a list of ‘good people’ in their phone and call on skills of those that they can trust.
Andy Kernohan is senior programme manager at Student Loans Company and has extensive experience of landing large scale business transformation in the financial services industry.