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Being an Interim Manager

Published on September 24th, 2014 | by Theresa Stinson


8 Stakeholder Engagement Techniques For Successful Interim Management

With an impressive professional background in change and leadership communications, senior level interim Theresa Stinson shares her views on why effective stakeholder management is crucial to assignment success.

Although it’s a specialist area in itself, communications principles can actually apply across all areas of business and are particularly useful for interim managers to implement when starting a new role in a new organisation. However, out of all of them I’d say Stakeholder Engagement is the most important. Here’s why.

Mapping effectively

The term stakeholder engagement can sound a bit like jargon and some people can mistake it for a ‘fluffy’ PR-type activity. In fact, experience has shown me that the one critical thing that can make or break a Change Programme is successful stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder mapping is something that we always do on Change Programmes right at the beginning. Implementation of large scale change across a business depends on the efforts of many different groups – generally Leadership, Operations, IT, Customer Services, Communications, Brand, HR, Finance and so on. All of these people and groups have different interests, motivations, constraints and problems as well as stakeholders of their own.

Getting Buy In

As Interim Managers (and I am one so I know!), you need to quickly understand the landscape within which you are operating. Whether you are there to manage a business function or deliver a project, you will need the support of your leadership, Heads / Directors of other business functions and the employees too. But when we start as Interim Managers, we have to hit the ground running and often have little time to find out about these things.

Here are some of the techniques I use and recommend to make sure you get the buy-in you need:

1. Do your homework - Before you commence the role, it’s a good idea to communicate with the person that’s managing your recruitment – be that the Programme Manager, HR team or Director for whom you’ll be working with. They are likely to know already who your key stakeholders are and can brief you on this and even set up meetings for you for when you start.

2. Start at the top - As soon as you start, it’s important to have a good and frank discussion with your Director or Chief Executive. Understand from him or her, the strategic positioning of your role as well as how it sits politically. They will tell you who they think you should engage with, plus those who can help you and even those you may need to be a bit careful around!

3. Formalise your strategy - create a picture for yourself in the form of a stakeholder map and be rigorous about implementing and updating it. For simplicity, I use a very boring table based on the headings below, but there are many different models that you can find just by simple online research.

Stakeholder map titles:

  • Stakeholder name
  • Stakeholder role
  • How are they impacted by my role / programme and what is the impact (financial, workload, reputation etc.)
  • What is their potential impact on my role / programme and what is the impact (financial, delivery, enabling / blocking etc.)
  • What is their current position with regards to my role / programme?
  • Where do I need them to be?
  • Any influencing factors (alliances, ambitions, common or conflicting goals etc.)
  • What action is required to get them to the required position, by whom and when
  • How am I going to keep the engagement ongoing?

4. Meet the people - Get round as many people as possible and talk to everyone at all levels. Always be humble and never arrogant. Executive Assistants know everything and can get access to the leaders you need in your corner. And often it’s the person on the shop floor - not the manager - who can make your project fly or crash and burn!

5. Position yourself – In order to get the support you need, it’s important to establish yourself and gain the endorsement of the most senior people possible in the functions that you need help from. It is much easier to get teams to give their time to help you achieve your objectives if they can clearly see that you have a good relationship with their boss!

6. Engage, engage, engage – in every role you are going to come across difficult or obstructive stakeholders who for their own, often perfectly valid reasons may not support your role or programme. It can be tempting to minimise contact with these people but my advice is to engage even more. A regular call, meeting or coffee can often allay concerns and take the heat out of the situation.

7. Stay out of the weeds – It can be frustrating when you are trying to drive through an initiative and you hit that ‘treacle’ in the middle of the organisation where there are so many different processes and sign offs to navigate that it becomes impossible to get anything done. Recognise that you are ‘in the weeds’ and go back to your Director, CEO or Programme Sponsor for clear authority to cut through the treacle and stay on course.

8. Don’t forget the PR – Use internal channels to share progress and achievements, demonstrating how your function or Programme is contributing to the business. Create opportunities to present to teams and showcase your work. It’s not usually a direct requirement but again, it certainly helps the wider organisation understand why they need to help you.

Good communications is often quite subtle and when it is going well, it can go unnoticed. It is when you don’t communicate enough or well that you can start running into all sorts of problems with engagement and buy-in. I hope the points above help you in your next interim assignment; please feel free to comment or contact me directly to discuss.

How do you manage stakeholder engagement in your assignments? Do you have any methods you can add or comments? Let us know in the box below.

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About the Author

Theresa Stinson is a senior level communications expert with a track record in delivering "end to end" communications. Her interim experience includes developing strategy, objectives and delivery plan, through to stakeholder engagement, agency management, materials production and implementation. Theresa is currently Communications Lead at the Royal Mail.

  • Stephen O’Hare

    Great article! Simplicity is always the best answer and 8 very easy rules that will reap great benefits. Point 6 engage, engage, engage.. in my opinion one of the most useful tools a wise person once told me “ them to death, it gives them nowhere else to go” if you listen and answer all their queries they eventually stop being a problem and become an ally

  • Bob Hammond

    Some great tips and I like Stephen’s point too. The stakeholder map is a good way to fully identify the key people you need to influence. Another key thing is to quickly build an understanding of how the organisation works - how it’s structured, where the key decisions are made, current challenges and priorities etc. Getting this knowledge helps you to build your credibility with the stakeholders.

    • Theresa Stinson

      Thanks Bob for your interest and response. Yes, there is a high expectation of interim managers (justifiedly so) and so any quick ways of getting to grips with the structure and culture are useful. And yes, knowing what the decision making processes are is critical - in each organisation the mechanics of making things happen can be different but interims have got to make a difference quickly.Again your leaders can help you with this - telling you which leadership meetings you need to attend etc. but often also Exec Assistants and administrators can let you know what papers need to be submitted, by when and in what format. Do you have any further suggestions Bob?

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