Tag Archive: stakeholders

Workplace Conflict; The Good, The Bad & The Useful

For a good portion of my career, I thrived on being a marketer. From my early days as a market researcher, an account manager, and eventually an agency executive, I loved the strategy and process of creating great concepts with compelling messaging that influenced buyers’ behavior. Managing a creative team, a client team, or corporate team, is sometimes burdened with conflict. Handling conflict was not my favorite part of the job, ever!

I aspired to broaden my career and went back to school for a Masters in Leadership Development about 12 years ago. Through a confluence of introductions, opportunities and also being an adjunct instructor at Drexel University, I joined one of my cohort’s businesses, Merit Career Development. Initially, I began helping them with a new branding initiative, but in an “Ah Ha” moment we realized that I’d likely be a strong trainer for Merit, too.  We were right. I have been running corporate trainings for Merit now for five years and I love it! But here’s the surprise: one of my favorite courses to facilitate, is Conflict Management (followed closely by Critical Thinking & Decision-Making.)

Why do I now enjoy talking about managing conflict? Because it makes sense to me now! And I also realize how much value it provides in driving better ideas and solutions. If we didn’t have conflict, and we all agreed on everything, we would live in a pretty boring, uni-dimensional world. How could we effectively cultivate new ideas or innovation without conflict?! It would be much tougher! The process of resolving conflict is very important, as well. It helps build and strengthen relationships, trust, and influences the development of new solutions to the challenges we face every day.

How do we make conflict good and useful?

Ultimately, it comes down to three important things:

  1. Being respectful towards the person or people who have a different opinion
  2. Opening yourself to hearing another perspective (opinion, solution, recommendation, etc.)
  3. Taking the time to truly understand the other opinion

Learning to listen and take the perspective of the person you are in conflict with, or reframing your perspective, as we discuss in the Critical Thinking course, is extremely helpful. It can be enlightening. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and give their idea a chance to be a winner to best understand the opportunities that may exist.

The results of working through conflict can be similar to a great brainstorming session; not all ideas are good or practical, but they often result in a better idea emerging through conversation and compromise. When this happens, the best part is that there is not one winner and one loser; everyone is a winner and feels ownership in the solution.

Good luck with conflict. Embrace it and become a better person by managing it with respect. You just may like the outcome!

Look for Part 2 of this series next month where we’ll share proven tips for recognizing different conflict styles and how to most effectively respond to them.

To learn more about the author, Gail Cooperman, or the workshops she teaches, click here.  If you would like to bring any of our trainings to your location, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call 610-225-0449.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/workplace-conflict-the-good-the-bad-the-useful/

Tips for Negotiating With Project Stakeholders

StakeholdersProject managers have to be expert negotiators, able to forge agreements between people who often have competing agendas. For example, the sales team may be determined to speed up a project so that it launches before the holiday shopping season, while Product Development wants to delay long enough to include a hot new feature. Meanwhile, the development team warns that a change in either schedule or scope will wreak havoc on the work they’ve already done. Whatever the dynamics, the project manager has to labor between parties to develop an acceptable solution.

Negotiating with stakeholders is tricky. They can be possessive of a project and pressured about its outcome. Because they have so much riding on its success, they can become prickly when issues challenge their assumptions or their comfort level. At the same time, their lack of technical expertise can make it difficult to understand the options that are viable for resolving an issue. And, of course, project managers can’t unilaterally impose a solution. They have to rely on their negotiating skills to keep things moving forward.

In the end, all participants want the same thing: a successful project that is complete in scope and delivered on-time and on-budget. For this reason, maintaining a perspective of partnership often pays the most dividends.

Think About Their Point of View: Recognizing why your stakeholder approaches an issue in a certain way is as important as understanding what they’re arguing for in the first place. For example, grasping the Sales department’s considerations – their overall targets, the competitive pressure they face and the demands salespeople hear from customers – will allow you to have more effective discussions around their concerns about schedules or feature sets. Similarly, understanding the technical and logistical constraints of the development staff will lead to more meaningful conversations about delivery and quality control.

Be Prepared. You can’t go into a negotiation assuming you’ll wing it, so anticipate your partner’s concerns, and be ready to address them. If you know tradeoffs will be required, outline the stakeholder’s choices and explain the impact each will have on the project’s scope, timeframe, and budget. In some cases, schedule is the overriding concern. In others, it might be cost. Bear those priorities in mind as you lead the discussion. It doesn’t make sense to stress the schedule-related aspects of a problem when the stakeholder’s mind is on how much money they’re spending.

Be honest: It’s just as important for stakeholders to understand the challenges you face. So be proactive about sharing your perspective, and remember that the stakeholder’s goals are impacted by many of the same things that influence yours: You all want the project to succeed, for example, and for your company to be well positioned in the market. Always be forthright in discussions about business outlook, project status and any difficulties you may anticipate. Not only will this provide a complete picture, it could help uncover solutions as the stakeholders weigh in with their own experience and ideas.

Listen: In any negotiation, it’s important that both sides be heard. Be sure to let the stakeholder outline their viewpoint, and ask questions when necessary to make sure you understand where they’re coming from. As your discussion continues, address the issues they’ve raised or promise to research areas that you can’t reply to on the spot. Too often, negotiations go off-track when one party believes their concerns are being given short shrift.

Of course, the situation is complicated by the unique place where PMs sit. Responsible for addressing everyone’s concerns, they almost never have the pure authority to pursue a particular approach without building some kind of consensus. Even if they did, successful projects are rarely built by edict. The best project managers have a knack for getting all sides to understand the others’ point of view and work cooperatively to attain the effort’s overriding goals.

Stakeholder Management can be tricky. Learn how to work with your internal partners more effectively in Merit Career Development’s Stakeholder Management course. To learn more, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Stakeholder Mgmt


© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/tips-for-negotiating-with-project-stakeholders/

3 tips for creating a successful communication plan

3 tips for creating a successful communication planA communication plan is an essential tool for project managers to plan for resources, establish deadlines and reduce the likelihood of costly surprises. Project managers can use communication plans to create goals, set expectations, allow room for criticism and enable a dialogue for all stakeholders.

Although communication plans are important, not all project management training focuses enough on the critical skill of creating a reliable plan. Improve your effective communication skills and follow these three tips next time you develop a plan for a major project.

1. Identify all stakeholders and their influence levels

When you establish a communication plan, the first step is to assemble your stakeholder team and assess what members’ roles will be and how they can be most effective. Because stakeholder teams are made up of people from various departments or even separate companies, there are numerous barriers to communication. An effective plan removes these barriers, establishing clear lines for discussion among project members.

In order to make more effective use of time and resources, analyze the influence level of each stakeholder and plan accordingly. For example, a meeting without a decision maker present may end up wasting resources and the time of those who attend. Conversely, meetings should not be set for high-level stakeholders when only minor details are discussed and their presence is unnecessary.

2. Select an appropriate method of communication for all stakeholders 

A common cause of miscommunication is the multiple channels used in today’s workplace. Business communication can take place via email, over the phone, through texts or on video chats. When you create your plan, set a clear mode of communication so that no records are lost and key stakeholders aren’t left out of conversations. Video chats are often the best for keeping remote stakeholders engaged with the rest of the team, but email can help by providing a clear record. Help your team decide on the modes that work best for them.

3. Establish the frequency and level of detail 

A communication plan should plainly and unequivocally lay out the times and dates that members are expected to meet, talk or present data. Meetings held too often may lead to reduced attendance, while meetings held too infrequently may create gaps in communication and loss of productivity.

The level of detail required for each should be established beforehand, so that everyone is on the same page and prepared, leading to less wasted time. Regis College also points out that communication plans that improve productivity also contribute to lower resource costs because work is more efficient.

And don’t forget the project’s executive when building your communication plan. Make sure to include opportunities for the executive to communicate expectations, changes or even kudos.


© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/3-tips-for-creating-a-successful-communication-plan/

To Manage Your Stakeholders Effectively, Start with a Communications Plan

The difference in project plan outcomes with and without a good communication plan is a real eye-opener for managers. When well-executed, the workflow of a project can advance seamlessly among stakeholders and break down departmental communication silos. Managing project stakeholders is critical to the success of every project. The first step to developing an efficient and effective communications plan is to assess the individuals on the team to determine who are the most essential team members for the project.

Building the grid

Throughout their training and certification, project managers learn about the communication plan process and the role it plays in effective project management. Without a plan, communications can be disjointed and fractured, creating the potential for conflict and miscommunication. Because stakeholders often consist of contributors from different disciplines and functions, managers should conduct a thorough analysis of their team to determine the right talent for each aspect of the communication plan. Stakeholder gridOne technique is to build a plotted grid that conveys each stakeholder’s relationship to the project. Doing so facilitates the categorization of individual employees, determining where his or her efforts will be most effective for the project. In the grid, the X axis identifies the level of interest, or how much the stakeholder will be affected by the outcome, and the Y axis signifies influence, or how much he or she can impact the finished project. Each quadrant, measured from low to high, would help measure the specific value of each project team member and develop the framework for the communication plan. Using the grid, leaders measure how much members of a team will contribute to the success of the project. Employees with high levels of interest and power would be more effective than members with lower levels of these attributes, while those with mixed levels can still positively influence the assignment. From there, managers must decide who will be included in the project.

Managing stakeholder expectations

Stakeholders can vary in terms of influence and interests. While the team assignment itself could drive completion, many factors can impact the project’s success. Several warning signs can point to project management trouble, such as missed deadlines and conflicts among stakeholders. To combat these challenges and break down communication silos, project managers must actively follow their communication plans to the end. It is the only way to keep stakeholders in check and ensure that the project’s needs are met in an efficient manner. Regular meetings—both virtual and in-person—can keep everyone up to speed on progress and serve to better manage stakeholders’ expectations.

Learning from experienced professionals

At Merit Career Development, courses are customized to provide flexibility and meet an organization’s needs. In its experience running effective project management training, Merit has found that many managers were not creating a communication plan, endangering the success of their projects. To illustrate the impact ineffective communication plans can make, Merit had managers run a simulation of a stakeholders meeting without a communication strategy in place. The inefficiencies of this non-strategy were apparent from the start. Merit then had the managers run through the same scenario with a communication plan in place. The differences were dramatic. There was a marked improvement in performance as managers realized the indispensable benefits of effectual planning and were able to better coordinate efforts among the team. Teaching project managers the essentials of developing effective communications plans has become an important component of Merit’s project management training. Merit actively looks to turn on the light bulb for project managers so that the value of efficient communication is crystal clear for them. The solution lies in getting the participants to struggle in the first hour of training in order to understand the benefits of the second hour and the importance of a plan. This can help save time and reduce errors, repetition and confusion among stakeholders and lead to better financial gains for the business. To learn more, review Merit’s course list or contact Merit today.

Click here to find out more about Merit's Stakeholder Management Course


© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/to-manage-your-stakeholders-effectively-start-with-a-communications-plan/