Every project has stakeholders, yet all stakeholders are not necessarily willing participants in projects. Depending on their importance and influence on a project, uninterested stakeholders can have anything from an irritating to a completely demoralising effect on a project and can take many forms from arriving late in meetings to neglecting to mention the project in high level reviews. This article covers some possible tactics for dealing with uninterested stakeholders.
“All happy stakeholders are alike; each unhappy stakeholder is unhappy in their own way.” – Leo Tolstoy on project management
Can You Make it Important to them?
The most straightforward option, this doesn’t mean trying to entertain them during meetings. Sometimes stakeholders simply misunderstand the relevance or influence the project has to them. By simply calling the stakeholders and going through step by step how the project will in a short time be changing the way their department talks to customers, or will soon allow them to save costs in procurement, or how the CEO will soon be asking them for the progress of the roll-out, can make this clear. Even if they do not personally have a genuine interest in the project, once they realise that they will be directly affected by it, even the most stubborn stakeholders can normally become motivated.
Can you Establish a Personal Relationship?
This doesn’t mean inviting their entire family round for dinner or becoming best friends with them. People do favours to people they like and stakeholders are much less likely to act detrimentally to your project if they know and respect you personally. Investing some time at lunch to discover common ground can go a long way to ensuring an unmotivated stakeholder becomes simply a neutral stakeholder.
Can You Replace them with Someone more Interested?
Perhaps if a particular stakeholder is overloaded or has other priorities, you can find someone else within their part of an organisation that is more willing and interested in helping the project. Or if another, existing stakeholder is willing to take on some additional roles or responsibilities it can be a chance for the disinterested stakeholder to focus on the areas where they are absolutely needed. If a swap or trade can be arranged this is a win-win for everyone. They no longer have to take part in your project meetings and you no longer have to deal with them.
Can you Escalate?
I think this is a last option, especially for someone who may be above you in the organisational hierarchy but if a key stakeholder is not working with you, an effective way to gain their cooperation can be to call their manager and explain the situation to them, that the project will not be successful like this and the broader consequences that this will have.
Are they a Genuine Stakeholder?
If in reading the steps above none seem to apply or make sense, perhaps you do not even have a real stakeholder, but someone that has been included in the project organisation through tradition or expectation. If this person does not have a genuine role in the project it is best to remove them completely from it.