Successful Project Ownership: How to Use Influence to Gain Buy-in
Most organizations know that efficient project management is crucial to business performance and success. A key factor that impacts project success is stakeholder buy-in. Depending on your industry and the project, these stakeholders can range from suppliers, government regulators, project team members to senior management.
As a project champion, developing the skills of asking for and getting support from relevant stakeholders is vital for project success. Most work in the prevalent corporate structures is done using influence instead of hierarchy. Here are some ways to secure the all-important buy-in using your influence.
Lack of buy-in impacts change efforts
In a study of more than 10,640 projects, PwC found that only 2.5 percent of companies completed all of their projects successfully. The rest missed the original deadlines or budget or failed to achieve the project goals. The consequent loss in productivity and revenue costs the U.S. anywhere from $50 billion to $150 billion each year.
Unless project managers win support from people across all levels within the organization, the project may fail to have the desired impact. According to Professor of leadership at Harvard Business School and author, John Kotter, gaining others’ support is vital for creating real organizational change. Kotter's research shows that one of the reasons behind the failure of 70 percent of organizational change efforts is the lack of buy-in for initiatives and ideas.
Cultivate the ownership mindset
Project ownership presents a great opportunity to showcase your leadership and management skills. Successful completion of the project helps you scale the career ladder.
Before you set out to influence others, cultivating an ownership mindset is important. This mindset involves taking complete responsibility for not only the output of the project but its outcomes. As the owner, you are not only accountable but also empowered to make the right decisions that achieve these outcomes.
These steps will help you cultivate the ownership mindset:
- Build confidence and faith in yourself, particularly if you are handling a project for the first time.
- Self-realization and confidence will further help you influence stakeholders and secure their buy-in.
- Develop resilience, agility, a positive mindset, and the willingness to take the initiative.
- While being prepared to identify and address hurdles along the way, ensure you create an environment where everyone is comfortable sharing information and tackling problems together.
Identify your stakeholders
Before you can secure a buy-in, it is important to identify all those who will be affected by the project and understand their needs. Project stakeholders can include top management, external and internal customers, partners, investors, and any other individual or group affected by the project. As the owner of the project, you will need to make an effort to secure buy-in from top management to the end-users of the new system or process while following these steps:
- Identify and understand critical stakeholder groups' views that can help create effective and targeted communication.
- Conduct a formal change readiness assessment or talk to different stakeholders to assess their readiness to support your project. The assessment will also bring to light misalignments, if any, between staff and leadership.
- Once you gain an understanding of the diverse needs and the motivations of your stakeholders, identify which individuals or groups have the most influence and power.
- Develop a plan to communicate and engage with these groups or individuals.
Share information openly
According to Kotter, people will not consider a new idea till they are convinced that there is a problem that has to be addressed. It is important to present the problem and your project idea as clearly as you can.
- When approaching the stakeholders, present accurate and legitimate information while you can point out precedents, if any, of similar projects that have succeeded in the past.
- Demonstrate your expertise in the field to strengthen your influence by using concrete examples.
- Bringing a recognized expert can also help add legitimacy and credibility to your idea.
- Knowing your organization's mission and the lessons learned from any past mistakes will help you be more effective in your role.
The art of asking
Build personal connections with powerful individuals and groups to gain their trust and build credibility. Establishing a personal rapport with important stakeholders will help them feel they are responsible for the project outcome. They may also be more willing to share their perspectives with you when they trust you.
As different stakeholders have different points of view and motivations, it is important to tailor your communication to each group or individual.
The art of asking for support involves knowing how to ask as well as when to ask. The way you frame the question, the tone, and the specific words you use can influence the outcome of your discussion. For instance, researchers found that adding the word "together" has a positive impact as it can create a sense of belonging. Similarly, asking for 'advice' as opposed to 'opinion' can put people in a favorable mood as they believe their views are valued.
You can also employ the 'Goldilocks strategy,' which is a pricing strategy that marketers use. They offer three product versions to consumers with low-end, middle-end, and high-end pricing to influence the choices consumers make.
As a project owner, you will need to ensure stakeholders feel appreciated and significant. When project plans are developed without the buy-in and participation of all concerned individuals, the project is more likely to fail. Developing an ownership mindset and creating a communication strategy based on legitimate facts or proof of concept is vital to strengthen your influence. Equally important is the right way of asking for support. While this can take time and consistency, your persistency will pay rich dividends in terms of the project and organizational success.