It’s easy to get caught up in the theory of stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder analysis, stakeholder matrices and communication strategies are all useful tools and they most definitely have their place in a Business Analyst’s toolkit, but alongside these formal tools and techniques, something very important to remember is that stakeholders are people too.Sometimes I’ve found that the best way to work with my stakeholders is simply by taking the time to understand them, to get to know them as people and to be empathetic to their aspirations and concerns.

Here are my top 6 tips for building great stakeholder relationships:

#1 Spend time getting to know your stakeholders. Focus on building a relationship with them – it’s amazing how much two people can connect over a chat over coffee… or an after-work beer!

And on that note…

#2 A stakeholder is for life, not just for a project. Well perhaps not for life, but it’s good to build a network of people within your organisation and working closely on a project can build strong connections. It’s well worth nurturing these bonds after the project ends even if it’s just a quick catch up over coffee every couple of months (I swear this post isn’t sponsored by Costa) or a quick ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ on IM.

#3 Find out how they like to work. Everyone works differently and it’s worth sussing out early-on the best way to relate to a stakeholder. Consider ways that you can accommodate their preferences; presenting information in their preferred format and in a context that works for them is an easy way to increase their engagement in your message:

  • are they a details person or a high level person?
  • do they prefer visuals, spreadsheets or text, or a mixture of these?
  • do they like informal meetings over coffee or formal settings, such as a meeting room?
  • how do they prefer to communicate? Do they like email? Teams? IM? Face to face?

#3 Communication is a two-way street. Listen to your stakeholders, understand their day to day, their concerns, problems and vision. Consider spending a half-day shadowing them going about their day, which in turn will help you to…

#4 Walk a mile in their shoes. We’ve all had difficult customers; the disruptive one in a workshop, the reluctant interviewee, the one who is resistant to the project vision, the plain rude and angry one. In 99% of cases* there is a reason for this and it is, in many cases, a BA’s job to find out what that reason is. It could be fear of change, fear of losing control or perhaps they’ve got something going on in their personal lives. If you can understand things from their perspective, you may be able to offer reassurance, introduce measures to cater for personal issues, offer empathy or change your approach to get them on board. In some cases you may only be able to understand the cause of their behaviour, factor it in and exercise patience. It’s also important to remember that in1%* of cases, there’s no good reason and you’re unlikely to win them around, so perhaps another tip should be you can’t please all the people, all the time!

#5 Confidentiality. If you do use stakeholder management matrices or documents, keep them confidential! It will do little for your relationship if a stakeholder finds out that you have them noted as a ‘problem customer’!

#6 Be authentic If you read my blog on Networking, you will know that I dislike the concept of building relationships purely for one’s own benefit or for career progression. Not only do I find this morally a bit iffy, I believe that no matter how great an actor or how talented in NLP you are, people can detect when friendliness isn’t genuine and this can ultimately be damaging to relationships. That’s not to say that every stakeholder has to become your best friend, but I believe that it’s important that you are authentic in your interactions with them. With that in mind, it’s important to be true to your own style too. So for suggestion #1 above, if chatting over coffee really isn’t your thing, but you like to have a quick chat with your colleagues on IM or Teams on a Friday morning instead, go for it!

*Completely made up statistics with zero academic or scientific verification