Ever been involved in an excellent strategy or vision workshop, but your bright ideas were never implemented? Contributed to a project proposal that never got the green light?
I can't speak to the quality of your ideas and innovation, but I can hazard a guess why your content never had any impact - the right people may have been missing from the room.
In the past, I have made the same mistake. This usually happens when I'm engaged by someone in middle management, to do a job mandated by senior management. My scope and approach gets a quick glance and approval, and away we go, solving the world's problems. Only to face significant hurdles when it comes to sign-off.
If your process does not adequately capture the people with agency - the authority and willingness to implement change - it is an uphill battle from the beginning. Because no matter how compelling or legitimate your proposal is, significant change requires buy-in.
The Right People at the Right Time
Those that have the agency also tend to have very full calendars and competing priorities. Unless this is a pet project, we are unlikely to have their engagement throughout the entire process. The trick here is timing - make it early, meaningful and consistent.
A simple process will greatly improve your chances of engagement, senior-level buy in and approval:
1. Identify your targets
At the very beginning of project scoping, identify approvers, detractors, influencers and victims (those affected by change.)
2. Engage Early
If possible, have a conversation before your work plan is set in stone, allowing your targets to have a say in the process and approach. Those with agency, in particular, are more likely to stay involved if they decided on their own involvement at the beginning.
3. Make it Meaningful
Select the appropriate touch points for each of your stakeholders that add value to them, and to the project. Approvers and detractors should be involved in strategic level discussions, ILM workshops and direction-setting. Influencers and victims should be able to influence options consideration and analysis and implementation strategies.
4. Be Consistent
Short, sharp updates about project process will keep people engaged - as long as they're consistent. Avoid emails, which are easily ignored and instead make a weekly or fortnightly phone call. This will most likely take a few minutes and will ensure continued interest.
Engaging the right people is just one aspect of a successful structured conversation. For more information on what makes a structured conversations, check out this post.