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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenny

Advocacy: More than Stakeholder Management

In a typical “Stakeholder Analysis” as part of a Change Management workstream of a business initiative, stakeholders are classified in groups. Users, providers, influencers and governance is one such classification, Customers, suppliers, investors, shareholders, creditors, communities and government is another. One classification targeted at individual executives is supporter, neutral, opponent. I am sure you have seen several of these classifications.

A lot of time and effort is spent ensuring the classification is right - it is a key Change Management workstream deliverable. Allegedly, the initiative will treat and communicate with each classification differently and this will lead to stakeholder buy-in.

But at the end of the day, we should not be trying to “sell-in” the initiative nor “keep stakeholders satisfied” or send them “project communications” for dissemination to their teams. What we really should be striving for is having them advocate for the initiative.

To advocate is to give public support. It is an active versus passive role. When stakeholders are advocates, they help the initiative and are prepared to invest their time and effort explaining it to others in a consistent fashion in order to broadly expand support. This means they will regularly advocate for the strategy, outcomes and expected results of the initiative and be confident in its value add to the organization. In addition, in order to advocate effectively for an initiative, one has to truly understand and be bought into the vision, strategy and expected results of the initiative, and want to engage. This is a much different role to presenting “communication decks” provided by a centralized initiative team at staff meetings.

Typically, that is only possible when the executive leadership team is aligned and speaking with one voice. This can be accomplished via an agreed “1-Pager” or some other method but the vision, strategy and expected results of the initiative need to be shared by all executives to enable advocacy. So, when we think about stakeholder and executive alignment we think of advocacy as a result. We ask “is this executive an advocate?” and if not, how do we make them an advocate. This is a far cry from the supporter, neutral, opponent classification we typically see.

An aligned executive team with a shared belief in the vision, strategy and expected results of the initiative is almost by definition a team of advocates. This is the goal.

What is alignment? How do we align around an initiative? How do we know we are aligned? These are really hard questions. Questions we are answering at AlignedAround. I would welcome your thoughts.

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