To successfully lead change, involve your stakeholders

Do the stakeholders for your change program seem disinterested even though you know that it is a subject that should be of importance to them?  Have you considered finding a way of getting them more involved?

I was working on a government programme which involved collaborating with five suppliers to deliver an improved service to schools.  We had created a project team which included people from several disciplines – business analysts, information architects, workshop facilitators and subject-matter experts.  Using this group, we engaged with a number of schools to work out how they would like to see the interface improved. 

Having developed a very exciting set of proposals, we went back to the five suppliers and explained what we had developed.  This met with a very lukewarm response and almost disinterest in what we were doing.  This was surprising as we thought they would be as excited as we were about what we had found. Our conclusion was that it appeared as though they were passive spectators rather than active partners in what was going on.

Based on this, we decided that we needed to find a way of improving their engagement in the work.  The proposal that we were developing was to create a service interface which linked the partners and the administration staff in the schools.  We decided that we could begin to involve the partners more directly in the work by engaging with them to assess the impact on their organisation. We decided that we could use a workshop approach and look with them at how our proposals would impact what they needed to do both in terms of the application interfaces and the data requirements.  

We chose one of the organisations as the best partner to start with. They had a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of understanding about what they wanted to do and so we started using them so that we could learn lessons quickly.  We visited their organisation and we proved to have a very fruitful couple of days looking at the questions that we needed to answer. We then worked with each of the other four partners doing the same thing. 

As a result of this work, we moved from a place where the partners were passive spectators to where they became much more actively involved and engaged in what we were trying to do.  They were also appreciative that we chose to go and visit them to do this work rather than them expecting to come to us. This particularly mattered for the smaller partners who had felt that “the big dog was wagging their tail”. 

In most change programmes, experienced analysts work with subject matter experts to develop the proposals for the way forward. While this can result in very high-quality solutions, it can also mean that the senior stakeholders do become disengaged and see themselves as passive spectators. It is always important to find opportunities to engage stakeholders in meaningful involvement early on in a new development or change initiative so that they become active participants from the outset.

If you want to know more about how to engage stakeholders in your change programmes, please read Changing Spots – a system approach to change management.  You can find more details at

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