If you’re planning to implement a new meeting management solution, you will likely spend a lot of time researching and evaluating the different offerings on the market. But while choosing the right software or service for your organization will be critical to meeting your goals, getting buy-in from all involved stakeholders for your project is just as important.
If you don’t get buy-in from senior executives, your meeting management software initiative might never be approved to start. Failing to get buy-in from those who will be involved in its implementation can cause significance delays in getting it up and running. And a lack of buy-in from those who will ultimately be using the new system can cause the results to fall far below expectations, not delivering the anticipated benefits, or even never used.
In our previous blog post, “8 Tips to Become an Influential Project Champion,” we discussed how to prepare yourself or a chosen team member to be successful with the project. In this post, we’ll dig deeper into identifying and understanding the stakeholders you need to convince, and look at how to most effectively get them on board.
Getting buy-in from stakeholders starts with figuring out who they are — all of them. Even a single person who you forget to get buy-in from could potentially derail the whole project.
These aren’t just people in your own department or who will directly use the new system. A new meeting management system also may drive changes in business practices, so be sure to consider anyone who will be affected by such changes. Also think about anyone who must approve any facet of the project — from the overall budget (finance department) to your preferred choice of vendor — and anyone you need help from to implement it (think — IT).
Identify those who will benefit from your project, even if they aren’t directly involved. Anyone who cares about cost reduction, governance transparency, accessibility, citizen engagement, process efficiency or reducing resource burdens may find gains in a successful meeting management solution deployment.
When deploying a meeting management solution in a public sector organization, stakeholders you’ll need to get buy-in from typically include:
- Main users: Clerk/Board Secretary/Executive Assistant
- Approvers: Management/CAO/Director of Corporate Services/Superintendent
- Contributors: Report Writers/Directors/Managers
- Implementers: IT/Corporate Communications (Website)
- Possibly Board members or Council members (depending on the organization)
While the number of stakeholders on this list may seem daunting, each of them can have a significant impact on the success of your meeting management project, so securing all of their buy-in is important.
You will have already identified many of these stakeholders as part of your research for becoming the project champion, when you looked for people who share your pain points and started forming your coalition. But there may be others you didn’t consider yet, and they should be within the scope of your buy-in strategy.
Of course, stakeholders are not all equal. Who are the gatekeepers whom you need to approve the project, or who might block it? Consider each person’s level of influence on the project, and what impact it may have if they resist. Similarly, as part of your “pre-pitch” preparations, try to gauge each stakeholder’s existing general sentiment towards your project or the pain points it solves. You’ll want to focus most of your efforts and energy on those stakeholders who may be most influential or most resistant; those already in favor of solving your challenges will need less of your attention.
Before you start trying to sell stakeholders on your project, you need to understand what makes them tick. While your initiative may be well-aligned with the goals of your organization overall, human nature says that people’s first reaction to a proposal will be more selfish — “what’s in it for me?” You need to be prepared to answer this question even without it explicitly being asked.
In the first post in this series, we talked about identifying other people who share your pain points. Those stakeholders may be the easiest to get buy-in from, as achieving your goals will also benefit them. You still need to be sure you understand their main motivations, of course — for example, cost reduction, accessibility compliance, etc. — and stress those particular facets most strongly in your buy-in pitch.
But what about those who don’t share your pain points — particularly those whose time or effort you will need to execute your project? Make sure you understand the real burden the project will create on these departments and stakeholders.
For example, if you need a subject matter expert such as a Clerk, how much of their time will you need over the implementation period? As another example, even for a cloud-based solution like eScribe that needs very little IT effort to deploy, the IT department may resist the initial implementation on the grounds that they’re “too busy” — without taking the time to actually learn what’s involved. It’s up to you (or if you already have a preferred vendor — work with them) to quantify the time and effort requirements and communicate it to the stakeholders.
For each of the stakeholders, think about what questions they might ask about your project, and what objections they may raise. The more prepared you are to instantly address them, the easier it will be to keep your project on track.
In our previous post, we talked about defining your narrative — developing your core messaging to pitch the merits of your meeting management project. But to be most effective in securing buy-in, you now need to tailor your message for each stakeholder or group. IT staff don’t really care about how much more efficiently your team will be able to produce meeting agendas; they care about what impact it will have on their workload during the implementation phase and beyond. Your contributors may not be influenced by accessibility benefits, but they will be more interested in the number of steps they are freed from creating and updating reports. Each department may also have its own unique terminology, so be sure you’re speaking to each one in language they can relate to.
For each stakeholder group, be sure to clearly communicate:
- The rationale for adopting (or upgrading) the meeting management solution. Define the project’s objectives and overall benefits, and explain how it supports the company’s strategic goals. When discussing the general benefits of the project, some may be best framed from a positive standpoint (e.g. “this will improve our transparency and help our citizen engagement”), while others may be best stressed from a counter-perspective (“if we don’t do this, we won’t be compliant with the latest accessibility standards and could face huge fines”).
- The specific benefits to them. The general benefits may seem compelling to you, but you’ll be more successful in getting a stakeholder’s buy-in by emphasizing the specific benefits to them. Not only are you trying to answer the inevitable “what’s in it for me?” question, but you’re also inherently showing the stakeholder that you’ve done your due diligence and taken their perspective into consideration.
- Timeline for the project. Stakeholders will want to see that the timing of the project won’t interfere with any other major initiatives. Presenting the full timeline — along with defining specific milestones — also helps you establish stakeholder accountability for subsequent implementation; they can’t later claim that they were surprised by the timeline and unable to meet it. Make sure that if decisions on the project are delayed, that the timeline and deadlines are adjusted accordingly; otherwise it may become impossible to implement the project within the deadline, dooming it to fail.
- Stakeholder commitments. Clearly define what is expected from each stakeholder in terms of support, time and level of effort in the project, including the quantified estimates discussed in the previous section. Once again, both you and the stakeholders want to ensure there are no surprises, and buy-in from the stakeholder then inherently includes their commitment to their role.
Go Get ‘Em!
As the project champion, you’ll be the one communicating internally within your organization to “sell” the project and get buy-in. But if you have already chosen a preferred meeting management solution vendor, they should be able to assist you in building your story and answering any questions that come up. The vendor will likely have been through this process with many organizations similar to yours, and can advise you based on this experience.
Try to be assertive in getting your message across, even if that’s not your usual nature. You’ll likely encounter many strong and varied personalities in securing stakeholder buy-in, and being too passive can impede your success. You are the voice of your project, so make sure that it is heard!