· He was promoted to a Four Star General in 1989 and was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993.
Who is General Colin Powell?
Colin Powell is an expert at managing expectations. Although he is known as one of the nation’s most influential black military leaders, the national security advisor to Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration from 2001 – 2005, and the Founding chairman of America’s Promise; General Powell is astonishingly skilled at stakeholder management which he developed throughout his distinguished career.
Think of the different political, social, and personal agendas he has had to manage from various stakeholders to successfully execute consistently on events that have had global consequences.
General Powell was born in New York City in 1937 of Jamaican decent and was the youngest child born of Maud Arial and Luther Theophilus Powell. What’s amazing to me about General Powell was that he graduated from Morris High School with mediocre grades and started his college life at City College in New York City. Yet after discovering and joining the ROTC, he developed a discipline and continuous improvement focus that changed his life forever.
As stated in the book Soldier; the Life of Colin Powell by Karen DeYoung, “Colin found he liked leading others and had a talent for the delicate balancing act required to win the respect and affection of those he lead while demanding their performance. He started a mental list of leadership qualities: A leader had to set an example and keep up standards. If he wanted his troops to drill an extra hour, he had to show he could do it with them.” He learned early in his military career that managing stakeholders’ expectations was more about leadership and setting the right example.
So, What Are the 10 Things Every Stakeholder Wish You Knew: But Won’t Tell You.
1. What keeps them up at night.
The key role of any program or project manager is to learn the hidden agendas and expectations of your main stakeholders. People only initiate programs or projects to move away from pain or to go towards gain. Your job is to learn which direction the stakeholders are going, and then ask them this question, “If you have the perfect solution to this issue, what would it look like and what would it allow you to do that you cannot do today?” A great resource to learn more about this line of thinking is the book Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.
2. Understand their requirements and expectations from their perspective.
Requirements need to be collected and documented using best practices and standard documentation processes that are reviewed and approved by the key stakeholders. Whether you are developing software, building a house, or constructing a highway requirements need to be recorded from the users of the solution perspective. A great site to learn more about requirements gather is: Leading Answers
3. Their preferred method of communication and that you would tailor / target communications to their style and be consistent.
Real communication is how your message is perceived, not only by what you document or say. Brain Tracy in a post called “Making Strong Connections” states, “In communicating well with another person, time is the critical factor. The value of a relationship can increase for both you and the other person depending on the amount of time that you invest.” http://www.briantracy.com/blog/general/making-strong-connections . I would also add that we should ask our stakeholders how they would like to be communicated with and how frequent they would like to receive those communications.
4. That you understand their personal stake in the project’s outcome and that the outcome will produce the benefits you promised.
Do you know how the success or failure of the program or project will personally impact your key stakeholders? Are their conflicting desires between key stakeholders (i.e. Someone wants the project to success while someone else really wants the project to fail)?
5. That you will involve them in the key decision making process.
Key stakeholders want and need to be involved in making key decisions. Can you image Colin Powell not keeping other generals or the President informed about key decisions and still being successful in his missions? Stakeholder involvement is a major key to being successful at executing for results.
6. That you would speak their language using terms they understand.
Learning to speak the language of your business stakeholders is a critical success factor for gaining their buy-in and support. Most highly skilled experts are cursed with the ignorance of knowledge. We have become so comfortable with the gobbledygook technical terminology of our profession that we fail to remember how difficult it was for us to speak that language and now that we have mastered it, we cannot remember what it was like not knowing it. Our stakeholders will be more impressed and influenced when we speak their language and present our ideas in terms that they understand and are comfortable with.
7. That you communicate their role and responsibility clearly and understand what role they really want to play.
Do your stakeholders know who’s on first and what they are supposed to do while they are there? One of the keys to building a great project team is when everyone on the team understands their roles. Managing projects are more like managing a baseball or football team. Each player has a position and the team will win games if everyone plays their best within their position. A great resource for document roles and responsibility can be found on the blog “The Critical Path”. By clicking on the link, you will gain access to a free project team organization worksheet that contains a RACI chart. A RACI chart helps you define the roles, but also who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed on the project regarding any major tasks.
8. That they need to be educated about your Methodology or PM processes.
Do you prefer to be sold a new car or to buy a new car? Most of us would prefer to buy the new car and to make the decision to buy the car salesman educates you on during the entire buying process. We need to teach our stakeholders about our methodology and process to educate them so that they can buy into our processes. Stakeholders want to know how your processes and methodologies work in a simple understandable language.
9. That you understand their learning style and that you respect their limited time.
Are you aware of your stakeholders’ learning style? Do they really need to sit in a 1 or 2 day class to learn the new system or process you have implemented. Do they learn better by conducting role playing scenarios, typing at the keyboard, reading a case study, or attending a presentations? Some of the best advice I have ever received regarding training stakeholders was to ask the questions, “What should my students be able to do once they have attended my training or learning program?”
10. That their feedback is valued and they you will act on it.
Ken Blanchard is famous for the axiom “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Do your stakeholders see you as a champion for proactively eliciting their feedback? Companies and individuals who are consistently seeking feedback from their customers are on a path of continuous improvement. When was the last time you sought feedback from your customers?
Share your ideas or thoughts? Do you have other ideas regarding what stakeholders wish we knew, but won’t tell us? Has this list of stakeholder concerns helped you to think differently?
If you want to learn more about Colin Powell, here are a few books I would highly recommend: