The Secrets to Stakeholder Alignment

No stakeholder alignment, no content strategy. Here’s how to get the people at the table committed to the content cause.

Content projects touch a wide variety of stakeholders in an organization. Most of the time, these projects don’t start out with everyone singing from the same sheet music. As I regularly tell client stakeholders, “I’ll be surprised if you agree on everything. This is your time to talk it out.”

5 steps to getting your stakeholders aligned

To get to the hand-holding and singing, follow these five steps:

1. Identify your stakeholders. 

First, make a list of the stakeholders for your project. Get specific—not just “someone from product development.” Find out precise names and titles.

Then, determine what type of stakeholder each person is. We categorize using these seven types (one person can be assigned to more than one category):

  • Sponsor: This is the person who gets the recognition or takes the fall. There’s usually only one.
  • Financial decision-makers: Again, there’s usually only one, but there could be more. These are the people who decide whether your project (or parts of your project) gets funded.
  • Strategic decision-makers: These are the people who have a problem that your project can or should solve. They are usually pretty vocal, and can approve/veto your work.
  • Champions: These are the people you can count on to evangelize the importance of content and content strategy.
  • Derailers: While these people don’t have official veto power, they can stop the project in its tracks (intentionally or unintentionally). They are often outside the obvious pool of project stakeholders, but impacted by the project outcomes.
  • Influencers: These people have opinions and insight that should be considered, but they don’t have veto power.
  • Implementers: These are the people who are responsible for putting your strategy into action. They often have very specific knowledge or expertise.

2. Get them involved. 

Alignment is not about telling people what you think and then asking them to agree. It’s about getting stakeholders to participate in the project, so they feel invested in and committed to the strategy. Work with your project sponsor to ensure all stakeholders are involved in some way. Some stakeholders need to be more involved than others, but everyone needs to be aware of your project objectives and updated on project progress.

3. Anticipate their needs. 

A very wise woman once told me that objections are needs or concerns in disguise. The more you know about your stakeholders’ needs and concerns, the better you can address them. Cultivate understanding between team members and avoid surprise objections later. Keep in mind that their needs will likely change as you progress through your project, so reassess as you go.

4. Craft your messages. 

Once you have a pretty good idea about what your stakeholders care about, start thinking of the messages that will resonate with them most. For each of your stakeholders, complete the sentence, “She needs content strategy because …” Center your discussions with that person around what’s most important to her.

A simple stakeholder matrix can help you collect information about your stakeholders and organize your messages. Here's an example:

stakeholder matrix

5. Don’t align ’em and leave ’em. 

Stakeholder alignment isn’t something that happens just once on your content project. It happens over and over throughout the project—from inception to implementation. Getting and keeping stakeholders aligned throughout the process is hard work. At every key point (or at regular intervals), don’t forget to stop, drop, and align.

If you pay attention to alignment, with any luck all of the stakeholders will be singing the same tune. You could start a choir. And go on tour.

Meghan Casey is Lead Content Strategist at Brain Traffic and author of The Content Strategy Toolkit.

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