Dealing with stakeholder change is one of the most common influence challenges that our clients face and so we were excited to make this the focus of our first Applied Influence Group Forum on Mon 25th Sept.

We had three excellent speakers in Joe Baguely, CTO VMware EMEA; Catherine Brown, Non-Executive Director Albany Investment; and Matt Parker, Director of Performance Innovation at the English Institute of Sport. 

The challenge in question: How can we best influence our stakeholder landscape to deal with significant changes to decision-makers, or those we’ve built a valuable relationship with over years? Whether it’s within a valuable pillar-client, our own senior-leadership team, or amongst our partner or supplier landscape; none of us can escape the importance of dealing with such change effectively, and what it might mean for us if we don’t.

Each speaker shared some personal insight into the topic and some of our key takeaways from the evening were:

Build Your Personal Network

Having really strong connections with one or two key stakeholders is brilliant and something that we talk about a lot. Catherine highlighted that relying on these one or two key stakeholders makes you more vulunerable to change and dealing with the impacts of it. A strong "personal portable network" will help you deal with change whether it's someone new moving into your organisation or you moving into a new organisation. Time spent reflecting on this is seldom wasted and can help you identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps in the connections you have to key nodes.

Identify The Different Characteristics Of Key Stakeholders

In an established situation people will have different roles and Joe introduced us to the idea of the Parent, the Zoo Keeper and the Pope. The Parent is someone who was involved in the birth of something, whether it was an organisation, an idea or a product. Being involved in the creation of something leads to a particular type of emotional attachment, which can be heavily affected by change. The Zoo Keeper is the person who keeps things ticking along no matter how long the monkeys have been in the zoo. The entire population of monkeys might have changed since the organisation first came along but the Zoo Keeper makes sure things keep going in a certain way; the monkeys may have forgotten the reasons why something is done, just thinking, "we've always done it this way", but the Zoo Keeper remembers. Some ideas, organisations or products can develop an almost religious following and the technology industry is a good example of this. Identifying the Popes - those who fervently believe in 'something' can be key in a change situation. Strongly held beliefs can lead to the Backfire Effect where information that contradicts a particular view will lead to that view being even more strongly held than before - even if the information is accepted. Popes can be strong advocates for change if it's in line with the belief, or strong blockers to change if it's not.

A change of key stakeholder may change the balance of Parents, Zoo Keepers and Popes and this can have a significant effect on the influence network within an organisation. If a Parent leaves then the emotional attachment to the original idea may also leave and in some situations this will allow necessary change to take place. On the other hand it may also lead to a loss of responsiblity for protecting what is fundamental to an organisation. Changes in Zoo Keepers and Popes will similiarly change the dynamic.

The only way you will find out which category people fall into is to talk to them. Joe's approach is to get people to teach you something about what they do. This is an open invitation to get across their point of view, build a strong initial relationship and identify how they feel about their role, to give you the chance to look for clues as to whether they're a Parent, Zoo Keeper or Pope.

Innovation Is Only Innovation If Real Change Occurs

You can change a key stakeholder but this will only count as an innovation within the organisation if behaviours change as a result. Often innovation, including bringing in new people, can lead to surface level changes without the change of behaviour that was the driver for the personnel change in the first place.

Speak To The Emotions First And Logic Second

Key stakeholder change leads to uncertainty and uncertainty leads to stronger emotional responses. Some people may be happy and optimistic about the change while others may be fearful of what it may bring. Matt spoke about how getting emotional buy-in to change was key and that it was important to do this before talking logic, data or concrete processes. Generating the right emotional buy-in is key but particularly difficult to do in large organisations and even more so if the stakeholder change has taken place at a difficult time for the organisation.

Understand The Capacity For Change

Matt highlighted how there is a big difference between resistance to change and capacity for it. Some people may be resistant to change but once convinced, have a large capacity for altering their behaviours. Others may be willing to change but actually have little capacity to do so. As key stakeholder change is usually linked to wider change within an organisation, recognising and identifying this can be hugely useful in the early stages of a stakeholder change situation. Focusing efforts on influencing those who are resistant to the change but have a high capacity for it can reap the most rewards. 

We'll be running our next forum in early 2018 - if you'd like to attend please let us know.