How stakeholder buy-in leads to project success

Nicholas Barnett
April 5, 2012

Attaining stakeholder buy-in is one of the most important steps in the communication process when managing a project. It ensures that the project team has the passion to do the project, that the executive team will support your efforts, and that external stakeholders will understand and accept the project.

The two biggest challenges that leaders have in getting their people on board with a company’s vision, mission and values are:

  1. Leaders must ensure that the company’s vision for a compelling and inspiring future is shared by all employees and it’s not just their vision; and
  2. Many leaders are good at coming up with rational reasons for employees to buy-in to a compelling and inspiring future but most are far less able to gain the emotional buy-in that is far more powerful in energising, inspiring and focussing employees.

It’s much quicker and easier for a leader to come up with their own vision or a vision that has input from a small number of people. Involving many others takes a whole lot more energy, effort and time of not only the leader but of many employees too. That involves a significant cost which some see as a big expense, while others will see it as a very valuable investment.

Engaging many employees in the process requires being open to many other perspectives which many leaders aren’t good at doing. Being open to other perspectives requires leaders to give up a level of control and adds uncertainty as to outcome. Many leaders like to hold the reins very tight. Being genuinely open to other perspectives means that the leader must listen and take account of those perspectives and not simply pretend to listen and go through the motions.

A vision of a compelling future that is developed with the engagement of all employees or a good cross-section thereof is to die for! Those employees are far more likely to be engaged, energised and focused on seeing that vision brought to reality if they were involved in its development.

Emotional or just rational buy-in?

Gaining buy-in involves engaging both the head and the heart; the rational and the emotional. Most leaders have a very strong left-brain orientation. They are structured and systematic thinkers and often highly intelligent. They are good at arguing and debating the merits of a proposal. They use their head but rarely use their heart.

Great leaders also achieve an emotional connection with their employees. They go much deeper and connect with the heart. They are able to identify those things that will provide meaning and fulfilment for employees. Emotional buy-in often involves identifying a shared and worthwhile purpose or goal and goes way beyond just making money.

Applying vision, mission and values principles to project management

These principles apply well to project management. Good project managers will:

  • Paint a vivid description of the benefits of delivering the project objectives with their team and all their stakeholders. They will also discuss and gain clarity as to why the project is so important to the achievement of the organisation’s aims and be clear as to the implications if the project is not delivered successfully. This goes way beyond simply setting out the project objectives and ensuring they’re well understood.
  • Gain the shared commitment set out above by not only engaging their team and their stakeholders rationally but will also engage their hearts and emotions.
Author avatar
Nicholas Barnett
Nicholas Barnett is the author of GPS for Your Organisation (Major Street Publishing) and has been a director, business leader and consultant for more than 30 years. He is chief executive officer of Insync Surveys, non-executive chairman of Ansvar Insurance and a non-executive director of Mission Australia. He was also a co-founder of Board Benchmarking and Gender Worx.
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