In any project that are leveraging the change management methodology, stakeholder interviews form an integral and critical part of the information you collect to discover the ‘as-is’ situation.
Interviewing the key stakeholders of an organization to be one of the most rewarding personal and professional experiences. Doing stakeholder interviews, I come across some of the most brilliant people in major organizations. I usually walk away feeling privileged to have spent time with these professionals who have subject matter expertise but who also have the history and pulse of the organization at their fingertips.
To some, stakeholder interview process can be an intimidating experience. To ‘interview’ the CEO of an organization, the EVPs and Sr. VPs and Directors of an organization requires a few important steps.
Here are some tips and ways of approaching this. It’ll get you 80% there feeling good walking into the interviews.
- Do your homework
Going into any meeting prepared makes a world of difference. With all the sources of information available today, it’s easy to find out about the background of the stakeholder. You can check LinkedIn, Twitter Feed at the very least. If meeting with the EVP level of a major organisation you can also check with the organization’s PR department or this professional’s personal assistant. They often have a bio that is already prepared that can help you. Come prepared and confident – know your stuff and be open minded to learn more.
2. Prepare your questions customized to the stakeholder
Of course, As you are preparing your questions, think of the influence that this stakeholder has in the project. Really, how influential will be their engagement to be central to the success of the project? If you are dealing with the sponsor, for example then, of course, you need them to be very engaged and they have a direct influence. In this case, you would want to know how comfortable they are with the methods you will be using to convey their messaging. If this stakeholder is going to be impacted, tangentially, or indirectly, then it would be worth exploring if this individual can support the project and be considered part of a coalition to the main sponsor.
3. Create the right environment, and frame the conversation
There are times when I have visited the stakeholder in their offices and other times when they have visited me in the office designated to me for interviews. In the cases when the stakeholder is visiting me I make an effort to have a slide project that shows in a summary what I want the stakeholder to know. It’s been sometimes a slide that shows the alignment between project management and change management, other times it has been a methodology that is being used in this project, sometimes it is stats. I try to have access to whiteboard and coloured pens handy. In the right environment, people want to share and want to make sure you understand full context.
When discussion change management, I often begin by asking the stakeholder what their knowledge and experience is working with a change management professional. This is a fairly new field and sometimes it is good go over a raison-d’etre of change management and the benefits. Then opening up the questions will help you get the engagement you are looking for.
4.Listen Actively to the answers
Active listening on the part of the interviewee is a skill that really benefits both parties in stakeholder interviews to get the most out of the time they spend together. I personally believe, the more you are talking the less information you are getting. So a good use of open and closed questions, focusing on the demands of the project, key issues, history on what worked before and what their suggestions are will work, the challenges, the opportunities, in the current environment is critical information that you want to listen to. Each organization has subtleties in the way that they communicate formally and informally – this is also something you’ll pay attention to as you will be developing communication plans, coaching plans, resistance management plans.
5.Determine the support and commitment level
For me, typical stakeholder interviews last around 30 minutes. In order to determine the support and commitment level of any individual, you will need to be listening for what is said, what is not said, what is emphasized. You will be paying attention to tone, manner, style, content, passion, interest level. With time and practice, I have developed my spidey-sense to assess these elements fairly quickly.
However, none of us are perfect, being human, it is possible that the stakeholder could be having an off day, or you could have misread/misunderstood something so make these decisions cautiously. The rule that I often use is that I often work with a senior person and a HR individual in the local team to take into account a bit of background and history that they have more information on.
6. Quick check the sphere of influence with the support level
As you combine the above 2 factors you will be able start developing an action plan in the engagement of the stakeholder. If for example the stakeholder is say, not supportive of the project, and they happen to have a fairly strong influence, which can be through either organizational hierarchy or through their personality, you may need to develop an action plan that gets this stakeholder from being negative to being at least neutral. Doing this with each stakeholder as you conduct the interviews will give you a strong action plan when it comes to the design of the project and the implementation phase.
7.Leave the door open
We can’t always get all 100% of the most important information the first try, or there are times you want to double check something. Definitely when my spidey-sense is tingling, I ask permission to be able to reach out to the stakeholder again directly. Most individuals are professionals and genuinely wanting to be helpful and it makes the next step a bit easier.