Part III Transformation: How to get and keep stakeholders on-board

By Amy Poynton and Dhugal Ford

Business transformation programs aim to reinvent a new way of working including anything from large-scale innovation through to straight forward cost reduction.  Successful transformations learn quickly that stakeholder management is not a ‘one size fits all’. Instead, it is about understanding the inevitable variation of behaviour and capability across people who can affect, be affected by, or perceive to be affected by the transformation including customers, shareholders, employees, regulators and suppliers.

Top of the list is continuously learning how to build and manage open two-way dialogue to secure the buy-in. Regardless of all the excellent work completed by teams across the program, stakeholder management is one thing that can make or break the overall success of the transformation.

By their nature, transformation programs are more unpredictable and attract uncertainty for the organisation and individual stakeholder groups. As discussed in the part I and II of this series, remaining agile and adaptive throughout transformation, including engagement, is crucial.  It is tempting to want to build a bespoke approach to engagement. Don’t. Instead, leverage the proven method and tools available and redirect the focus on building an iterative two-way approach to supporting people experiencing the change.

The combination of a flexible, agile approach with proven and scalable stakeholder engagement will make the change stick.  In the process, the typical static mode of one-way dialogue will give way to more dynamic two-way feedback with key stakeholders.

‘Being Agile’ is not about throwing away traditional business methods – it is about understanding how to learn and adapt to best meet the contemporary demands of the business and your stakeholders. Done well, there is an opportunity to gain the desired engagement while also increasing the capability.

Doing it well means being relentless in engaging, investing wisely in business lead representation and building leadership capability that will drive and sustain the business.

Relentless Engagement

Transformations tend to put time into stakeholder management plans and activities at the start of the program and then again at the close-out of work, but getting early engagement doesn’t necessarily mean securing support and commitment for a whole program of work.  Getting early commitment is hard, but not as hard as maintaining it. Neglecting the importance of ongoing stakeholder management is an easy way to lose program momentum. Programs will negotiate the time and attention required for the work, but are stakeholders willing to do the work month after month?

‘We are still waiting for the case study that shows cascade method as best practice for communications’ (Transformation Programme Lead)

Keeping engaged with leaders means testing, confirming and supporting leaders to keep up their end of the bargain. For example, the reality is that large-scale programs require leaders to cascade information and workload to their teams This is one of the highest variance areas of stakeholder engagement – Did the cascade happen and was the information received and understood? Program teams that establish avenues of regular and rapid check-in’s will be able to test and confirm that the cascade is working.

A program that has a relentless focus on stakeholder engagement will have a fighting chance of keeping up with the shifting sands of stakeholder wants, needs and perceptions. Then, timely and relevant support can be created to meet the demand.

Invest in Business Leads

Large scale transformation is…well, large. That means finding effective ways to connect across geographies, languages, sites (office and production) and distribution channels. Investing in the role of a ‘business lead’ (a business representative embedded on the program of work) provides an immediate focus on building strong two-way communication between the program and the business.

Like a ship’s pilot who navigates a bulk carrier entering a port, the business lead will navigate the environment to successfully introduce, embed and sustain the new way of working.

Business lead selection needs to be driven by the program with significant input and buy-in from the business stakeholders. The role will be responsible for:

  • Planning – facilitating discussion with stakeholders to understand why plans, timing and activities are important. Then, the lead will capture feedback and critical local requirements to further improve the plans.
  • Decision support – Leads will provide important background, detailed analysis and rationale for critical decisions. Being a conduit between the business and the program is critical. It enables the program team to understand what needs to adjust or be better clarified before decisions are positioned with relevant governance bodies.
  • Deployment – When ‘go live’ happens, the business leads need to be on-point to smooth out the change transition and help to prioritise the areas that will inevitably need attention; particularly those areas that are most important for individual businesses or stakeholders.
  • Hyper-care – Big issues may will happen. Hyper-care means mobilising the right experts who can quickly identify and solve the big issues that will happen when changes go live to the business.

Business leads can be future leaders in the transformed organisation, so don’t waste the capability investment and buy-in that has been achieved with these talented people.

Leadership Capability 

Like the business leads, a transformation program will give leaders valuable skills and experience that will keep releasing productivity gains long after program close-out.

Research and experience suggests that 21st century leaders require strong capability in two areas: managing ambiguity and ability to influence. Transformation programs are loaded with ambiguity and require influencing stakeholders across both organisation hierarchies the market. Gaining leadership engagement in transformation means that leaders will learn and strengthen their ability and mind-set to manage the ambiguity of the future business world and they will know how to influence others to come along with them.

Being deliberate in measuring the existing capability of leaders provides a baseline to better target the investment in capability development. It will identify existing strong leaders who are more likely to provide immediate support and commitment to the program of work. Conversely, understanding where there are capability gaps will aid the program, and particularly business leads, to better identify where to allocate more time to business and leader support.

Enabling stakeholders to get onboard, and stay onboard, may be hard work, but remember that it is a pre-cursor to the all-important support and commitment required for a successful transformation!


 Amy Poynton is a business executive and advisor, mentor and board member with over 20 years experience in business improvement and transformation. She currently splits her time between board commitments, consulting, mentoring, writing and public speaking.

Dhugal Ford is a Director at The Terrace Initiative, with over 15 years experience working within a global business. He now enjoys working as part of an amazing team, with deep expertise and a sense of fun, delivering lasting and transformation change with predictability and speed for his clients.


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