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Ready to innovate? Make sure you’re not derailed by your stakeholders

Managers need to foresee potential human problems among different stakeholders and act pragmatically to avoid issues during an innovation process.

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When it comes to innovation, having multiple great minds on deck can be a huge boost — the chemistry that comes from diverse perspectives often introduces incredible ideas. But when too many people are involved, it can stymie innovation.

In fact, Harvard Business Review surveyed challenges to innovation in one industry, healthcare, in its article titled “Putting Humans at the Center of Health Care Innovation.” The authors of the article found that trying to balance too many stakeholders was one of the top issues innovators face.

Fortunately, taking some precautionary and inventive measures can save your next big thing from eternally being mired in the quicksand of conflicting desires, difficult personalities, and resistance to new ideas. First, it’s essential to get a pulse on why multiple stakeholders can be a recipe for a messy process.

Invisible characteristics and goals stakeholders bring to the table

When you’re a project manager, you’re automatically charged with delivering an end product that meets the needs of everyone involved, including customers, employees, supervisors, vendors, other teams, volunteers, strategic partners, investors, and sometimes the general public. Ultimately, some of these stakeholders may bring behaviors that can derail even the greatest solutions.

Take the person who makes it her job to argue with every idea. She’s willing to die on hills that you didn’t even think were worthy of a second glance. And her toxicity spreads like a virus. Then, there’s the passive-aggressive individual who says nothing overtly but covertly undermines others’ thoughts and contributions. He’s just as dangerous as the aggressor because he’s so subtle.

Of course, the sabotaging stakeholder is super sneaky, too. She’s set upon wreaking havoc, and you won’t know it if you’re not looking. Finally, there’s the professional victim who blames everyone else for missing accepted deadlines or otherwise not contributing as planned. He always has an excuse, and those excuses choke the flow of the innovation process.

Are additional personality types waiting in the wings? Absolutely. Is it any wonder that most IT projects cost 178 percent more than budgeted and take 2.3 times as long to get done as planned? All that unmanaged conflict eats away at every aspect of the project management experience, with American workers collectively wasting nearly 1 billion dollars each business day on trying to herd cats.

Is it any wonder that so many businesses begin to feel like innovation is a pipe dream?

To be sure, it’s not. Managers of multiple stakeholders just need to get in front of foreseeable human problems and proceed pragmatically. Here’s how:

1. Get everyone on board during planning.

Want to stave off major stakeholder surprises down the road? Gather everyone during initial innovation planning. Hold an honest, transparent discussion about the project on hand, including its innate benefits for all stakeholders.

The key to success is coordination and understanding (SOURCE)

During this onboarding phase, you can get to the heart of each stakeholder’s WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me?” Give every person a chance to speak up, and note any emerging negative feelings immediately. Then, make sure everyone agrees on the overarching problem by identifying what it is, who is affected, and what success will look like moving forward.

2. Disseminate information like a trustworthy boss.

Hold nothing back from stakeholders from the earliest moments of the innovation process. For instance, you may want to have weekly written updates that document what’s occurring on the project, which is something more than 90 percent of managers do using online word processing. These documents have a secondary advantage: They allow you to remind players what they need to produce in the future per their agreed-upon contributions.

The only caveat to sending out tabs is that you don’t want to overwhelm your audience members. Be succinct. Otherwise, they’ll stop reading your memos, and you’ll find yourself in a challenging situation when they miss important deadlines, updates, or changes.

3. Revisit the project’s purpose regularly.

Don’t assume that because your project’s journey was laid out in advance that you shouldn’t have to revisit it. Stakeholders sometimes focus on the wrong outcomes or issues throughout the project management process. By realigning everyone’s vision back to the main objectives of the innovation, you can minimize a derailment.

At the same time, if one stakeholder becomes a holdout or stops putting forth positive energy toward the agreed-upon group objective, expect to have a direct, private discussion with that individual. The sooner you respectfully act to address and resolve rising conflict, the smoother the project will work toward completion.

Innovation never comes easy, regardless of how many cooks are in the kitchen. However, you can keep all stakeholders involved on track and making in-roads toward a collective goal if you prioritize proactive, pragmatic communication.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Jeff Heenan-Jalil is the senior vice president and global head of Health Business for Wipro Limited, where he is responsible for the business unit’s profit and loss, strategy, and operations. Jeff has more than 22 years of global diversified experience acting as a change-agent for IT services businesses. Outside of Wipro, he is a board member of Digital Square, an organization that aims to empower countries to develop sustainable national digital infrastructures. In 2013, Jeff was placed among the Top 50 in the Global Telecoms Business — Power100 Rankings. The views expressed in this article are Jeff's, and his employer does not subscribe to the substance or veracity of Jeff's views.

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