Winning support for your project means becoming a change agent. Success comes from engaging people along the entire journey from idea to approval to implementation. Their interests and contributions need to be seen and incorporated into your plans, otherwise they will almost certainly derail your progress at some point. Get them on board early instead and you are well on your way to getting the green light.
What’s more, your proposal becomes stronger as you work this way. As questions, concerns, and ideas are raised, you can modify your approach to become more comprehensive and thoughtful. Along the way, people also become aware of what you are trying to do, why you are trying to do it, and how they fit into the picture. Their engagement in the process builds support. Of course, there are plenty of places for this to go awry, which is why it is helpful to be thoughtful about your approach.
Chip and Dan Heath use a great metaphor for navigating change in their book on change: the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path. The Rider represents rational thinking, the Elephant represents emotional energy, and the Path represents the situational setup. Change is most successful when all three are aligned—when the rational Rider’s careful analysis sets direction, the energies of the emotional Elephant are engaged, and the situation is intentionally shaped to promote a Path that guides movement well. Winning support for your project means orchestrating these rational, emotional, and situational issues from the various perspectives of all constituents.
That means establishing a crystal-clear vision that is understood and embraced by all of the people in all of the positions who must directly or indirectly adopt or support the change. It also means providing motivation in the form of answering the “why” for all of these constituents. And it means making it easy for people to participate and to join your cause. It requires a steady effort of stakeholder engagement.
You might be thinking that this all sounds like a lot of effort, but sometimes it is best to walk slowly in order to move quickly. And the best way to do that is to make sure that you understand and consider the project from a variety of perspectives.
Daniel Pink explains this in his book on sales psychology where he states that “the ability to move people now depends on … understanding another person’s perspective, getting inside his head, and seeing the world through his eyes.” Taking this approach gives you tremendously useful information that you can use to shape your project and how to pitch it. Selling your ideas requires listening, understanding, and responding to the needs and concerns of all constituents.
You will need to determine who has a vested interest in your project, how this can benefit them, what risks it may introduce for them, and the best way to keep them engaged. This will be the basis of your planning and your communication strategy going forward.
There will be obvious people in this list—your boss, members of a committee, etc. But more will come to mind as you think through how you expect your project to move through the approval channels and on to implementation and eventually becoming operationalized. Once you have that list generated, you can organize the way you approach these people into groups.
Those who hold power and authority and have a high level of interest in the project or related areas will need to be managed closely. Other high powered people with less interest in the specific project should also be kept in the loop though, because the discussion will ultimately reach the top as a group at some point. The less surprises there the better.
Some people will have a high level of interest but not necessarily hold a lot of power or authority. You should keep them engaged and informed because they can help you with information and insights. These people will also have the high power people looking to them for input, advice, and buy-in. Many people will be more marginal to the whole process, but you would be wise to circulate high level talking points that can help shape and facilitate “word on the street” about your project.
The success of your project will be tied to your skills as a change agent. The more you keep people informed, the more you listen to them and adjust, the more support you will cultivate. And with that support, the chances for success for your project are almost guaranteed.