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Paul Rogers’ field guide to stakeholders: Part one

Dollars And Sense

There are many frameworks to help classify stakeholders, and if all stakeholders behaved perfectly, those tools and methodologies would be…perfect! But stakeholders are human just like you and me, each with their own foibles and peccadillos. 

Thankfully, Paul Rogers is practically perfect in every way and has prepared this two-part field guide to help you identify and deal with different types of stakeholders. This is part one, dealing with stakeholder archetypes 1 to 6.

Jarrad Jargon

Meet Jarrad Jargon

How to recognise them

Jarrad is an expert in his field, but sometimes struggles to explain things in plain English. It’s not just the jargon or the acronyms, it’s the use of words and concepts that mean nothing to the uninitiated.

Why it matters

Subject matter experts need to be able to translate their insights so that ordinary folk like you and me can understand what it means for us and our problem or opportunity. If they can’t do this, we either miss out on their expertise or do not engage with them at all, as interacting with them is a negative experience.

One stereotype is that stakeholders who work in IT need subtitles so that business stakeholders can understand what they are talking about. In reality, good communication requires that we communicate in terms that are meaningful to the audience, not just to ourselves.

What to do

ELI5 is web speak for ‘explain like I’m five’. One option is to ask Jarrad to ‘explain like I‘m five years old.’ There’s a chance that Jarrad might be receiving on this frequency. Elon Musk famously sent an email with the title ‘Acronyms Seriously Suck’. See what he did there?

Another option is flattery. Instead of disparaging Jarrad’s language, you might celebrate his expertise. “You are so knowledgeable, I think I can learn a lot from you…especially if you can ‘dumb down’ the language so a newbie can understand.” 

If everyone has the same experience with Jarrad, then his immediate manager may need to support Jarrad to communicate more effectively.

Busy Bee

Meet the Busy Bee

How to recognise them

They say “yes” to every request for their time which means that they are in ‘back-to-backs’ all day. Always busy, they miss deadlines and send emails at unsociable hours because that’s the only time they have to follow up on all the promises they’ve made.

Why it matters

Their lives are punctuated by apologies, guilt about broken promises and anxiety about upcoming deadlines. That’s not sustainable for anyone and colleagues may become embarrassed about adding new tasks to their already-busy schedules.

What to do

If you are not their manager, and their contribution is essential, one option is to break their contribution into small ‘chunks’. When engaging their support, negotiate a schedule for delivery of each ‘chunk’ so that the tasks are more ‘do-able’.

In the longer term, they (or their manager) need to address assertiveness (saying “no” without guilt) and maybe adopt project management tools and techniques.


Meet the Storyteller

How to recognise them

No matter how much you may understand the current situation, The Storyteller wants to ‘take you back to the beginning’. They fill in the ‘gaps in your knowledge’, pointing out what they know that you don’t.

Why it matters

It’s not just about wasting your time. It’s not even about providing the backstory. It’s about ego, isn’t it? The Storyteller is trying to persuade you that they have esoteric information..and you don’t, do you punk?

What to do

I never know if it is two choices or one choice with two alternatives. But one option is to flatter their ego, “I do enjoy your stories, Alex. What do you believe are the lessons learnt that are relevant to the here and now?”

Another option is to decline to play the ego stroking game, and instead focus on pragmatic plans. “Happy to hear about the past, as long as you can point out how it helps us in the present.”

You could even take a brave pill and say, “I stopped studying history in year 12, Alex”. That might work.

Duke Of Decibels

Meet the Duke of Decibels

How to recognise them

The Duke of Decibels talks more than anyone else and sometimes ‘overtalks’ others.

Why it matters

Confidence is good, but if a stakeholder overdoes confidence and dominates meetings to the detriment of others, that can inhibit a free and open dialogue. The impact on the team is at first frustration, then demotivation and finally a reduction in participation. The Duke doesn’t want audience participation; it is a one-man show.

What to do

One option is to pair up stakeholders at a meeting and invite every other pair to share their ideas before The Duke.

If you’re brave, place a dot next to the name of attendees each time they speak. Share the result with The Duke and ask for their help to secure more participation from the stakeholders who contributed least. This may dodge the central issue but may also secure The Duke’s participation in the solution.

Grump Meister

Meet the Grump Meister

How to recognise them

The essential prerequisites of a control system are transmogrified by The Grump Meister into a secret global conspiracy designed to bury them in a miasma of form-filling, box-ticking, hoop-jumping and red tape dodging that stops them from doing their vital work. Or so they would have you believe…

Why it matters

The attritional effect of defending governance that you didn’t design and which protects us all is that it wears you down. Not to mention that it is hard to see the best in stakeholders who always make withdrawals from your reserves of patience, and who never make a deposit in your bank of motivation.

What to do

One option is to label their behaviour and to lead off with it. “Now Alex, I hope you are not going to spend 10 minutes lecturing me about red tape?” Acknowledge their behaviour and move on. 

Another option is to suggest that they arrange a meeting with the governance or audit team who designed the governance frameworks and raise with them their objections. Perhaps offer to attend? And bring the popcorn?


Meet the Saboteur

How to recognise them

The Saboteur says nothing at the meeting, but seeks to influence the process through lobbying and back channels.

Why it matters

“If you’ve got something to say, say it!” 

Life’s too short for game playing and none of us want to waste managerial time and emotional energy second guessing the motivation of people who give you a ‘diagonal nod’.

What to do

It may be a ‘difficult conversation’ but a one-on-one with The Saboteur (“How do you feel about the way things are going?”) may surface any latent issues. Be ready to probe, as the behaviour may be linked to deep seated issues like role, personality conflicts (or personality defects) or past behaviours.

If a one-on-one meeting is not appropriate, another option is to put The Saboteur on the spot in public. Summarise the team’s discussion, outline the proposed course of action and invite the team to confirm their support. Then ask a supportive stakeholder “What would you like to add?” before turning to The Saboteur and asking a closed question, such as “Do you support this course of action?”

Better to surface their issues and have a spiky ten minutes than have weeks of behind-the-scenes undermining! Be ready to follow up in private, and don’t be surprised if The Saboteur has some feedback for you about your behaviour. At least we can start being honest with each other!

Final thoughts

The overwhelming majority of stakeholders are well-meaning and willing to cooperate wherever possible. If our approach to stakeholders is based upon trying to work out where they are going wrong, it is unlikely we will be able to build many successful stakeholder relationships.

However, it would be surprising if you haven’t recognised some traits in the archetypes presented in this article from your previous interactions with stakeholders. 

The important thing is to avoid stereotyping stakeholders and instead recognise them for the complex human beings that they are. By understanding what makes them tick, it is more likely that we can engage with them in ways that are successful for them, and for us!

Watch this space for part two of Paul Rogers’ field guide to stakeholders. Coming to you next week via PASA’s Insider newsletter.

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