The Greatest Hits of Stakeholder Management |

The Greatest Hits of Stakeholder Management

Ever walked away from a client call, taken a sip from your coffee cup, and wondered — “why are these people being such tremendous jerks?” As Michael Jackson sang, “You’re not alone. I am here with you.” Emma Bullen spoke to Copy Hackers’ Joanna Wiebe to get her expert advice on stakeholder management. Today, we are here with you, in a non-creepy Michael Jackson way.

It Ain’t Easy; It Ain’t Easy

“Think of all of the strange things circulating round,” sang David Bowie. He might as well have been singing about stakeholder management — the closest thing to herding cats you’ll ever get in your career. The best thing to do is to acknowledge that at times it will be a downright messy affair.

“I don’t think there’s any one technique outside of being ready for chaos,” says Joanna. “There is so much personal stuff tied into decisions that are made in board rooms and on calls that you might not know about. Do your best to stay cool while that’s happening. Keep the right people involved when they need to be and don’t worry them when they don’t.”

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

Your clients are not the Spice Girls. (That’s probably a good thing, because the Spice Girls are really picky). To set yourself up for success, you need to know who is calling the shots and what outcomes you’re going to be measured against.

“Everyone is so different. At the start of a project, finding out how your stakeholders want to be involved is probably the most important thing to learn, so you don’t have to make assumptions,” says Joanna. “Similarly, if outcomes are going to be measured, you want to know what and how, so you’re not making blind calls on things that matter, or really don’t matter.”

Don’t Act Like You Know Me, Like You Know Me, Na Na Yeah

You’re right, Jax Jones, we don’t know you. But we do want to know the roles that our stakeholders play. The DACI model is an easy tool that can help you gather all the information you need to herd these cats. Who is going to be the driver, the approver, the contributor? Using this simple matrix sets up how involved your stakeholders want to be and how often they want to be part of conversations.

“Setting the DACI at the beginning helps keep people from feeling they’ve been excluded,” says Joanna. Not everyone can be a decision maker — we have a single point of contact. This person gets to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ These people get to sit back and listen in.”

Call Me (Call Me) On the Line, Call Me, Call Me, Any, Anytime

Like Debbie Harry, your stakeholders want to hear from you! Crucial to note, they are also not psychic. They don’t know how the project is going unless you tell them. To make things easy, check in on a regular basis, and don’t rely on just email to do it.

“The more we can see each other face-to-face the better,” says Joanna. “We use communications tools like Slack to get people on the same page, we set up an in-person or online meeting, or we hop on a call. Over communicate every step of the way.”

We Don’t Have to Fight. Just Take it Step-by-Step

Wise words there from the Weeknd. Managing expectations is easy if you do it out of the gate and take the project one step at a time. Start by asking smart questions about the project, its goals and expected outcomes — and refer back to them as things change.

“Have discussions early on about what the goal is,” says Joanna. “One person might believe that success is getting a huge winning result. Another person might think it’s about testing. Find out the expectations going into it.”

Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh, Oh-Oh-Oh, If It All Goes Wrong. Just Hold On.

Darling, not every stakeholder is a joy to work with. And some days, admit it, neither are you. If you’re struggling to win over a stakeholder, don’t give up hope. Like Louis says, “it’s not over until it’s all been said.”

“Just this morning we shifted part of our focus for our collaboration software Airstory, and it didn’t go over well with a stakeholder,” says Joanna. “I’ll probably be talking to him for the next couple of days to get him on board. We’re all on the same team; we need to move in the same direction. Unless it’s a hill for him to die on, we’ll do what it takes to get in that direction. We’ve got to move, we can’t be fighting.”

These Boots Were Made for Walkin’

While Stormzy might warn you not to get too big for your boots, when it comes to stakeholder management, confidence gets you places. Don’t come running like a bad boy; do put on your diplomatic boots and maintain your cool.

“Open the gate and march out as confidently as you can. The more the client believes in you, the easier the job is going to be,” says Joanna. “As long as we’re all making decisions based on the goal, it’s not about whether this is the right execution or strategy — we can have discussions to get on board. Sometimes I have to give in, sometimes they have to give in. That’s the way it works.”

Joanna is a novelist, a blogger and the co-founder of Airstory and Copy Hackers. Airstory is a writing and research platform that helps writers get unstuck so you can finish your writing work faster. To find out more about Airstory, visit