Winning over your stakeholders

No learning practitioner is an island – you will need the support of your peers, senior staff and stakeholders to make a change. Harri Candy shares some tips for winning over your key influencers, whether they are friend or foe. 

So, you have this great idea, something new and innovative that will reinvigorate training and development in your organisation. It will improve return on investment, increase skills acquisition, decrease time to competency and reduce overall costs both in training and across the organisation. 

All you need to do now is get the green light from your stakeholders and you can get started making your mark. Here are five tips to help you get that ‘yes’.

1. Manage your mindset

There’s no way anyone could object to your great new idea, right? Wrong. 

I have proposed a shift in training methods that would achieve the same level of competency, in less time, and for a lot less money – and still some of my stakeholders opposed it. Always assume someone will say ‘no’ and try to preempt their reasons. This will help you think through your idea more thoroughly and work through any foreseeable issues. 

2. Are your Stakeholders friend or foe? 

Some of your stakeholders will like your idea and get on board quickly. They might have questions about how it will work in practice but they will frame these as ways to support you, such as “how do we encourage managers to change their perspectives?” These are your promoters. You want to find ways to leverage their support and influence.

Other stakeholders will be against your idea. They will typically frame their questions as challenges and make assertions about why the idea won’t work. For example “you will never get the managers to change their minds.” Whilst these people can be toxic and their negativity can be infectious, you do need to work with them. Treat their concerns as valid and work on gathering data to persuade them to support you. 

3. Treat challenges professionally

It might be difficult to not think of a challenging stakeholder as a problem person or someone who is just trying to make your life difficult. Remember, you are all working towards the same goal, to help your service users in the best way possible. You will often have different ideas about how to achieve that. So when you hear an objection, try to see it in a positive light. For example, if you hear stakeholders say “the website is just too difficult to use” try and interpret that as an objection from someone who is concerned about barriers to access, frustration and wasting learner time. Then you can respond accordingly. 

4. Borrow from the best 

It’s hard to support your new idea with data, testimonials and competency measures before you’ve had the opportunity to at least run a pilot. However, you can borrow from other people’s success. Look at where your idea (or a similar idea) has been implemented in another organisation or industry. For example, the effectiveness in storytelling in learning and development is on trend at the moment but it isn’t new. The marketing industry has been changing our buying behaviour for years by tapping into storytelling and creating emotive nudges. You can add a lot more credibility to your ideas by name dropping the best in the industry to demonstrate that their views correspond with your own and their experience corroborates the expected benefits outlined in your proposal.  

5. Plan on a page

I once condensed a 12 page area manager programme into a one page timeline infographic. The stakeholders loved it. It made the programme look easy to follow, intuitive and all of the critical information was laid out clearly. You need to be armed with all of the details and costs for your new idea, but it makes a better first impression if you simplify it all into a plan on a page with illustrations which highlight the most relevant aspects. This allows you to make a great first impression and control the subsequent discussion. For example, you can stop someone from skipping ahead to the costs before they’ve heard all of the benefits.

Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to get the ‘yes’ you need to try out your new ideas. If you follow these five tips though you will be much more likely to get stakeholders onboard, engage in meaningful discussions and foster a collaborative relationship – so getting the next ‘yes’ should hopefully be easier. 

About Harri Candy

Harri Candy is an Online Learning Specialist at ELK Online and a former member of the Charity Learning Consortium. She focuses on helping organisations facilitate a learning culture through high quality assets, effective marketing and all-levels engagement. 

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