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Practical people engagement – an excerpt


Written by Patrick Mayfield, Practical People Engagement will provide change leaders with a rich reference of practices and techniques on how to influence and lead people to new solutions. Here, we exclusively feature a short passage from it.

How to waste £billions on projects

What really happens if you ignore relationships on a project? What would happen if you did not have any significant engagement with people outside of formal progress meetings?

You don’t need to look far for the answer. Novice project managers tend to focus exclusively on the traditional technical aspects of project management. As a consequence many people who should be involved at various stages of the project feel neglected. Typically, and most dangerously, these may include the users but there will be many other stakeholders – from senior management to functional experts. This encourages fear, and sometimes anger. Non-cooperation and resistance grows. The project completes, if all goes well. The project manager moves on, feeling that they have delivered to contract. But what of the expected positive outcomes set out in the business case? These are usually absent and there is often the turbulent legacy of resentment and poor performance in the wake of the project.

Unless your project is building something simple to a customer’s clear and stable brief, without attention to the people issues you can expect a host of problems to ensue.

Shaping your engagement

Before you begin to plan your communications/conversations you will need to decide your rules of engagement, or strategy.

There are multiple reasons why this is a sensible step. Here are some of them:

  1. By now it is obvious that certain stakeholders require a different treatment; a different person in your team may be better positioned to engage them; you might get better results with a different medium for that stakeholder
  2. Maybe a particular group requires engaging at an alternative tempo or frequency
  3. Your whole project may need to shift its strategy part way through its lifecycle
  4. Also, if different members of your team are engaging with different stakeholders, we need some rules of engagement so that you all stick to predictable behaviours and keep each other informed in certain ways. Otherwise it gets complicated!

Six engagement 'hats'

When considering how you roll out engagement, it is useful to look at it from a number of perspectives. Rather like the 'Six Thinking Hats of Edward de Bono' (Penguin, 2009), we can consider at least six ‘hats’ - perspectives that can add value to our strategy:

  • The Marketer, who thinks in terms of who is the target customer, how to make a product visible and attractive, and what sort of messages and advertising would make the target customers want to buy. Marketing literature has a rich vein of thinking about influencing people to act and so is deeply relevant to how you can engage stakeholders.
  • The Change Agent is mindful of the difficult transitions from old to new habits of behaviour that people must make in order to get the best outcome possible.
  • The Politician is focused on where power lies, and uses the mobilisation of power to bring about engagement and change.
  • The Accountant considers relationships and the engagement process as a series of transactions, seeking to avoid going into relational ‘deficit.’
  • The Leader, who sets a vision for a future, and establishes a new direction for stakeholders, offering to lead them by example.
  • The Speculator, who is risk aware, working on probabilities, and different strategies with different risk mixes.

Patrick Mayfield is the author of Practical People Engagement, written to provide change leaders with a rich reference of practices and techniques on how to influence and lead people to new solutions. Patrick is chairman of pearcemayfield, a leading international provider of consultancy and learning solutions in leadership and change management through projects and programmes. For more info about the book click here

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Patrick Mayfield


Read more from Patrick Mayfield

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