Stakeholders: controllers, trusters and challengers

Many of us struggle at times with how to get our business stakeholders (e.g. internal or external clients) onside. As researchers and designers leading projects, we often have no formal power of authority. So we rely on forming and maintaining good relationships with our stakeholders to ensure their support. Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management are some of the most important ingredients for successful project delivery.

I recently attended a Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) event, which was all about stakeholder management. One of the presenters was psychologist Klaas van der Laan, who spoke about the importance of knowing what your business stakeholders expect from you in your role. He identified three broad types, which I’ve elaborated on a bit:

Stakeholders who look for control

These are stakeholders who you need to keep closely informed. They like to know the ins and outs and don’t like surprises. They also need to feel you are in control of the project, so they’ll get nervous if you appear unsure or are not across the detail. The less in control you seem, the more control they will seek. And vice versa.

Stakeholders who operate from trust

These stakeholders assume you are the expert and know what you are doing. They trust that you will do a good job. If you keep updating them on small things and rely on them for decisions, they will see this as you lacking confidence and it will undermine their faith in you. They just want to know about the project milestones. Show them results along the way and their trust in you will increase.

Stakeholders who look to challenge

These stakeholders often want you to do things a particular way and will question everything you propose that is different. They might have had a positive experience with a certain approach last time and just want you to replicate that.

Often these stakeholders are worried about the project outcome. Be sure you can clearly explain the benefits of what you are proposing in terms of project results. You can also highlight any risks to the project associated with a different approach. (Of course, this does not mean you should be inflexible, it just means your stakeholder should benefit from your expertise.)

I don’t know about you, but I have worked with all three stakeholder types. Yet writing this down made me realize that I tend to interact with my stakeholders based on my own style – which is trusting. So I need to be more aware of their preferences and adapt to those if needed. I’m adding this to the other things I always try to keep in mind: what are my stakeholders’ goals, what are their pressures and concerns, and what’s their favourite drink 😉

miXture: a blog that shares insights from, and relevant to, different design and research disciplines

Maaike Mintjes

Maaike is a Design Researcher and Co-creation Facilitator. She also provides training and coaching. She has worked in the field of human-centred design since 2007, both in Australia and The Netherlands. She loves using design thinking to build bridges between research insights and design outcomes.

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