An organisation might have an outstanding management team and an effective management system, but if it does not manage the sometimes myriad of key stakeholders effectively, transformation programmes can suffer serious negative impact or be completely destroyed.

It is not uncommon to hear that misunderstandings, poor leadership, lack of support and inadequate communication have been the cause of programme failures. So it is vital that stakeholders understand the programme, its objectives, challenges, benefits and implications. This is not a one-time exercise, as buy-in, trust and support can only be earned and maintained if stakeholders are kept informed and comfortable, and it is important to understand that different stakeholders have different expectations and different definitions of success. 

It is also worth noting that a company's reputation is a function of its reputation among its various stakeholders and a positive reputation among stakeholders is likely to result in a positive reputation for the organisation, not only for a particular programme, but for the company overall.

With humans being what they are, there will usually be those who are allies to the transformation programme, those who are opponents and those who stand on neutral ground. Only through a careful stakeholder analysis can the tendency, importance, nature and other traits of each stakeholder be established in order that a suitable stakeholder management plan can be defined so that each stakeholder can be managed appropriately.

Aside from the three main steps in stakeholder management (identification, analysis and management) I believe that there are two underlying success criteria which can make or break any attempt to manage stakeholders. They are 'Trust' and 'Communication', and when blended correctly, can form the basis of a successful stakeholder management effort.

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In his book, "The Speed of Trust", Stephen Covey delves deep into the importance of trust with stakeholders and the words on the front of his book; "(trust) the one thing that changes everything" are especially relevant to anyone setting out to foster strong relationships with stakeholders.

With trust comes confidence and that is something we want to earn and maintain with as many stakeholders as possible. The more we increase the trust and confidence, the less we are likely to encounter resistance and the more we are likely to gain the support we need from key stakeholders in overcoming challenges that we alone are unable to address directly.

The meaning of communication is the response that you get, and I believe we should take responsibility and learn how to communicate our way and their way. What and how we communicate to our stakeholders will influence them, and how they react will influence us, and if we are to see true two-way communication we need to know how stakeholders are reacting so that we can react accordingly. 

Stakeholder management is a critical element of IT transformation and indeed any business transformation and is easier said than done, but it can often mean the difference between the success and failure of transformation programmes. And as the old saying goes; "the bigger they are, the harder they fall".

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