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Episode 2: Mastering stakeholder management in change initiatives with Jack Stamp

Diary of a change manager podcast

In this episode, Sam is joined by Jack Stamp, sharing their expertise from years of managing complex change initiatives.

As change practitioners, they’ve witnessed the profound impact that stakeholders can have on the success or failure of a project. Over 30 minutes, Jack guides us through the intricacies of stakeholder identification, analysis and engagement.

Change manager Jack Stamp recording the podcast episode. A quote reads "You need to talk the talk and walk the walk"

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Episode 3: Strategies for change
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Episode 3: Strategies for change

The secrets to successful stakeholder management

Episode highlights

Welcome to Diary of a Change Manager. The podcast that makes change management easy. Today, your host Samantha Kinstrey is talking to expert Change Manager, Jack Stamp.

Browse our full transcript below, in simple, scannable sections.

Never underestimate the importance of a smart umbrella for a great first impression

Sam: So, good morning, and welcome to “The Diary of a Change Manager.” I’m Sam, your host, and today I’m talking to Jack. And you’re gonna introduce yourself?

Jack: Yes, so, I’m Jack, and we first met quite a while ago now. I wanna say 2017? And we met in a government basement. Yeah, it was raining.

Sam: And you were so smart when you walked in with your very lovely, long umbrella. I love a long umbrella like that. It’s very impressive.

Jack: That… You’re welcome. Yeah, it’s quite gentleman-like. I think it’s probably my grandad’s!

Sam: So, we met quite a while ago now. We’ve done lots together, haven’t we? So, today, we need to talk all about stakeholder management and champions networks. My first question to you, Jack, is, what makes you so passionate about people and the impact that they have on the success of the change programme?

Why are stakeholders so important to a change programme?

Jack: So I think the thing for me, Sam, is when it comes to stakeholders in a change programme or project, we know it’s people that make that change happen, and to continue the longevity of whatever the change is.

It doesn’t matter what the tech looks like, or the change in… it could be the way you make a tea, that they’re asked to do, or, you know, implementing some form of technology. If people are not bought into it and they don’t come with you, you know, that change is gonna struggle to happen. It certainly won’t carry on.

So for me, that stakeholder management part of a change manager role, for me is just so important. People are at the end of a change, and we know it’s painful. You can’t dress that up any way. So we need to be aware of that. And for me, that’s why I’m so passionate about, you know, stakeholder management and the groups that are affected by change.

Identifying stakeholders for change

Sam: So, how do you figure out who’s important?

Jack: It’s difficult! It is difficult. You know, it’s a real challenge to sometimes unearth, you know, the different stakeholder groups.

So, if I think back to my time in the NHS, there are so many different stakeholders that would’ve been affected by a particular change that we were working on. And this goes, you know, right from CEO through to the janitors. And we needed to establish quite quickly, you know, where that level of impact was gonna hit them with the change, and make a plan around that.

So, it’s really about getting in the offices and spaces, and understanding sort of an organisation’s landscape. And matching that with the project’s ambitions.

For successful change, engage with your middle managers

Sam: So I seem to remember, Jack, that you’ve got a particular set of stakeholders that, they’re your number one go-to. So, can you remind me who that is?

Jack: So, for me… The go-to’s are the people managers. It’s the middle level of management. So there’s often quite a lot of focus, and we do this initially, I feel, within change management and projects and programmes, is we go straight for the senior stakeholders, don’t we? You know, the sponsors, they’re gonna be almost the leaders of that change. And they are really, really important, and we’ll probably talk a bit more about those in a second.

And then you’ve got sort of the people on the ground, the workers, who are really gonna be affected by the change. You know, that’s their living, their day-to-day, you know, activities that are gonna change.

So for me, I like to try and be involved with those people managers, you know? The people that are looking after, involved with the people that are really gonna be affected by the change. That’s what I look to kind of go after to a certain extent, and maybe the wrong choice of words, but it’s unearthing those people managers.

Sam: And is there something about the fact that they give their team’s permission to spend the time to find out, they give them permission to learn. So can you open up a bit more on that?

Jack: Of course, yeah. So, I’ve found that, if you miss that level, or the… If you miss out the people management, and they’re not involved in, with us as change managers in a project or programme, we find that, you know, reaching and getting messages to the people that are affected is really difficult.

We can also find that level of management, ’cause you know, they’re getting pressure from below, pressure from above. So, it’s really about supporting them. And they can be… They can become sort of the underground behaviour, where they’ll say yes to you, but they’re not really invested, and they’re not gonna give us the roots of the actual people that are gonna be affected by change. So, it’s really about trying to bring them onboard, and establish where their pain points are. And they’ve got a lot. And you need to listen to them. We need to listen.

Sam: So how do you do that?

Jack: For me, when I’ve done this, especially in the NHS, I found that kind of just having conversations, it can sometimes be, you know, an organised formal conversation, but sometimes, you know, meeting them in, you know, the coffee corner, water coolers, whatever it is, it’s having those early consistent dialogues, building a relationship, which I think is such a big part of our job.

As change managers, you know, we need to be able to build relationships with the right people. You need to move the… You know, so for all of us with change, you’re in a state of fear when change comes around. And we need to move them from that state of fear to a state of trust. And they have to trust in us as change managers, we need to understand their pain.

Sometimes, we might need to do some favours for them. You know, they might not be very heard, so we might be able to take what they’re saying to us back to senior-level leadership and kind of unblock some barriers for them. And then, they’ll open up to us and say, “Okay, I’ll let you into our team meetings, Jack”, or, “I’ll let you, you know, send a particular comms to a particular niche group.” They really hold all the keys for me to get into the people that are gonna be affected by change.

What role do senior stakeholders play in change management?

Sam: I think absolutely, you’re right there, Jack. So talk a bit about the senior leadership, then. So, what role do they play?

Jack: So a lot of the time, the senior leadership, we kind of tag them straight away with this sponsor. You know, “You’re the ones that are gonna talk about the truth. You’re gonna say how great it is.” So, it’s really key to get their buy-in, obviously, and you’d hope that they are.

The thing that sometimes falls a little bit short, and, you know, there’s lots of pressures on everybody at work, is kind of talking the talk, walking the walk as well. We really want to help those senior leaders with the change.

So, say we’re implementing a technology. We would, you know, sometimes give them a bit of a white-glove service, to make sure that they’ve got all the tools and training and everything they need to adopt that change that’s coming on. And then, I would try and get as much time with them as possible, which is gonna be difficult and look to do a bit of coaching, and see how… See if we can help them with communicating the change, and really showing, ’cause you know, words are great, but actions are even stronger. So getting them to show that they’re embracing the change that’s coming, and what they’re doing, what their change journey looks like, can be really powerful as well.

Sam: Yeah, so it’s about influencing them, isn’t it? To be advocates, and to really be championing this change for us.

Jack: Yeah. Influencing is kind of like a unwritten part of our job description, isn’t it? know, influencing all of our stakeholders, or communities and groups is really important when it comes to change management. It’s like a bit of a dark art, but sometimes, just talking, a bit of empathy goes a long way. Being understanding of all of the different roles, and being cognizant of how that change and this change process affects them. You know, all these extra meetings that are coming up, the comms that are landing in inboxes, or in their teams, or, you know, networking channels.

So, it’s really sort of having a bit of empathy, and doing change with them, rather than to them, which is so often the way I’ve had that previously, which, you know, made me wanna become a change manager.

A bad change experience can create an excellent change manager

Sam: So, come on, tell us about that experience.

Jack: So, I was working in the NHS as a data quality officer, looking after the medical records. And the NHS, where I was working, the trust were implementing a new system. And it was just done to us. There was no real buildup. Couldn’t think of anybody in particular that, if I had a problem, that I’d go and talk to, it was literally, “Here’s your training, here’s your manual from Monday, all the best.”

Pat on the back, and off you go! You know? And that’s really daunting, it’s scary. You know, at times you’ve got to be able to do your job still. And I just thought at the time, that there are better ways of doing this.

So I got involved quite quickly in IT training, and then change management, and started to understand a bit more about change management, and the psychology of change. That really is important to me.

The role of change champions in stakeholder management

Sam: So let’s circle back round to what you said about, in that situation, that you couldn’t find anyone that could help you on Monday morning. So, I think that brings us, doesn’t it? Really nicely, actually, back to that other really important group of people when we’re talking about stakeholders and champions. Where do we find those people? How do we find them, Jack, and how do we get them onboard with our programmes?

Jack: Yeah, so champions, they’re, you know… Champions programmes for me are just so important, and this is really investing in the people that are gonna be going through the change. It’s not bringing in people from the outside, it’s the people on the ground that are advocates of what’s going on.

And those that hold a bit of influence at times, you know, within their peer groups, it’s getting them onboard and saying, “You know, do you wanna be part of this with us?” You know, you can really be a strong player in helping you and your colleagues move to a new state, or go through this change.

Identifying change champions and influential stakeholders

Sam: How do we spot them?

Jack: How do we spot them? I’ll tell you how I’ve spotted them before. They’re often the ones that are telling me, “No, this is not good.” ‘Cause they’re the strongest voices, you know, it’s human nature. If someone says that, “Sam, you can’t do that anymore, you’re gonna do something different.” “No way, Jack! Absolutely not.” And those that speak up are quite often the really strong, powerful personalities that hold a lot of gravitas amongst their peers, and they’ll be looked to.

So you quite often find, it’s not always the case, but I’ve found, in government and in the NHS, where I’ve worked previously, that some of the naysayers that voice their opinions straight away often just need to be listened to. Given the information that they need. And they turn around really quickly to be our strongest advocates and champions. And they are already influencers of their peers, and they bring people with them.

So, I find that quite quickly, you can establish those that are gonna be really good to have on your team, as sort of in that champion, informal or formal network.

Sam: And there’s something else, isn’t there? About the person you already go to for that support. So, we’ve got a couple in our business, haven’t we? You know, we always go to the same people when you want to learn about something new. ‘Cause they’re just the ones that know it. They’re the ones that are really interested already. So how do you spot those ones?

Jack: Again, I think it’s having… talking to that middle management. So we’ve spoke about them before, the leaders of people. And if we strike up that relationship with that group of people, the people leaders, they’ll quite often say that, you know, “Sam’s kind of our go-to IT person”, or, “Sam always fixes the printer when it gets jammed.” But, you know, there are those people that are just your go-to’s, right?

And I’ve found that we’ve got that a lot of the time from the middle management. And when we’ve done this previously, when we were… we did some work in the government, we kind of had an all-doors-open, but kind of set some criteria for people as well to say, you know, “Is this a good match for you? Sign up!” And sometimes, you have to give something back. Could be cake. That’s a good influence.

So, yeah, so that is often how I find those champions. Whether, you know, you can do a formal, “Come and join us”, and people offer their own autonomy, and will want to come and join, and be part of something to help with this change that’s coming. Or sometimes, it’s just unearthing those people that are the go-to’s.

Champions networks are fuelled by recognition

Sam: I remember that particular project, Jack, where we first met. And I seem to remember that you came on board to manage those stakeholder groups. And we were so successful on that programme because, I think, wasn’t it the Permanent Secretary that came and did a Was it a rewards It was a ceremony at the end of the programme. And many of those people had never met the perm sec before, and they were absolutely blown away with that, weren’t they?

Jack: It’s really powerful. I think that recognition and reward for those networks that are helping in, you know, big change that are going on. You know, you think how busy we all are, you’ve just signed up to be a champion. You know, we would offer, you know, lots of different benefits to being a champion.

But the biggest thing that they’re gonna get, is they’re gonna be, you know, at the forefront of this change. They’re gonna be armed with all of the information, get sneak peeks of things that are coming, be the first to know, and they’ll be able to support their peers. That’s a lot. That’s a lot for people to do. So giving some reward and recognition from somebody of that stature, I mean, that’s huge. And, you know, that’s only gonna help with encouraging them to do more of the same thing, to be that champion and to be part of, you know, whatever the new thing is, coming along.

But reward and recognition is huge when it comes to these networks, ’cause it is… Everything’s additional, right? We’re all consumed by our day-to-day, aren’t we?

Sam: Yeah, we are, yeah. So, I know now that we sort of tend to go to those management and to the sort of senior leaders and say, you know, “If we want to make this champions programme work, we’ve gotta let them carve out some time.” And how are you finding that now? You know, are senior leaders more open to having that kind of conversation?

Jack: I think they are. I think they are. I think we’re always gonna get a bit of pushback, because there’s a certain level of investment with any change. But I think, where we’ve worked, we’ve kind of explained to the sponsors and that senior leadership how important these networks, and what benefits they can give you by having, you know, people from your own business and company to be able to champion the change, ’cause nobody knows who Jack is. You know, they’ll listen to me, but they won’t take you with the same importance as they would do their peer.

So when we’ve been able to show that benefit, and to talk, you know, those senior leaders through the benefits of having champions, we do find that they’re more open to that. They carve out the time for them. They give people the recognition and reward.

But sometimes, it’s even built into some of, you know, corporate objectives, and helps them with their progression in their career, whether it’s, you know, civil service or NHS, or wherever they’re working. So that’s really powerful to do.

When change goes wrong: getting back on track with disengaged stakeholders

Sam: So, thinking about all of your experiences, Jack, over the last few years, can you give us any really great examples of where this hasn’t gone so well, and how we’ve had to circle back, and you go and restart influencing people again, because something’s gone wrong? Have you got any ideas there?

Jack: There’s one that sticks in my mind. It takes me back to the NHS again. And this is where, we’re implementing a new healthcare record system. So our clinical staff had to enter, you know, just taking observations, blood pressure, temperature, etc It would have to go into an electronic system.

So this is quite a few years ago now. And as we were going through the change programme, the ward management who, you know, are in charge of rota-ing and giving direction to those staff nurses, auxiliary nurses, senior sisters. And that stakeholder group just wasn’t invested in.

And we found that, quite quickly, as we were supporting over a go-live there wasn’t much live happening.

You know, pieces of paper were still going round. You know, there was a lot of floor walk-in support. There were the, you know, all of the tick-box exercises from the projects and programme, I would say were done. But, that level of management just really wasn’t given enough opportunity to hear their concerns and problems.

So we noticed quite quickly the level of adoption wasn’t great. So, we had to kind of go back over that. Try and re-engage with… and you can imagine this change has already happened. So they’re all already disengaged. They’re already standoffish. You know, they don’t wanna talk to Jack, they don’t wanna talk to anyone else from the project. The really high-level sponsor messaging is good, but it’s just another thing that’s coming down onto this level of management.

So, we had to try and carve out time, go back, listen to concerns, address them. There was additional training that we had to do. And when we think of that in a project scenario, that’s time cost. And the biggest thing for me was the people. These people were just not given enough time.

We know that people are the most important thing when it comes to change. And if you don’t do it properly right from the very beginning, you know, my experience, especially there, is we fall really short, and we fail people. Which is… It doesn’t leave a good taste in anybody’s mouth, and, you know, the project will really struggle.

Sam: Yeah. And, ultimately, in that context, they were the frontline, weren’t they? They were the people that are actually, you know, they’re the ones that are having to put that information into that system, so… yeah.

Jack: And a pressurised area as well. This is so important to many of us. So, doing it right first time, having that people-first approach is just absolutely key. And, you know, it comes right back to, you know, the staff, the conversation, where we were talking about identifying those stakeholder groups, you know? At the top, brilliant for that core-level messaging. You know, the people on the ground doing the job that are gonna be affected, they’re gonna get the highs, the lows, the stress, the benefit, the joy as well.

But we really need to make sure we tap into, you know, the people managers, and understand what that looks like, and take them on that journey with us, ’cause if you don’t, devastating results that are there for everyone to see.

What makes a great people change manager?

Sam: So Jack, I’m thinking now about what makes a great, not a good, a great people change manager. You know, what are the qualities that we should be looking for in our great people change managers?

Jack: So, great people change… So I think part of it’s in your question, it’s people. So, people and people.

For me, it’s empathy, having a real understanding that change is difficult. It’s hard. You know, there are gonna be lows, there are gonna be highs. And for me to be the best version of myself as a change manager, it’s just having that empathy, being able to talk to, you know, CEO, director, chairman, whoever it is. And then also being able to talk to the people on the frontline. You know, the boots on the ground, those that are doing the work. We need to be able to make sure that we can communicate effectively to all of them, and be engaged with them. You know, I think that’s really important.

So empathy, people-first approach to everything, really listen, which is a skill. I talk a lot, but I have to learn to We have to learn to listen, and really take onboard what they’re saying to us.

But sometimes, I won’t say it verbally. You know, you can feel that they’re disengaged, stressed, they’re worried. You know, and there’s a lot about our jobs and responsibilities as a change manager.

Is there anything else that makes a great change manager? Being adaptable. Being adaptable. You know, we’ve all read the manuals, gone through training as change managers. But I think, you know, you can quite quickly establish if you need to do a little bit more in some areas, and being adaptable, and being able to change your tactics, you know, because not everybody’s the same.

And again, this is why I feel so strongly about people’s side of change. Understanding, you know, if you put people in a stressful situation. You know, there’s two responses to, you know, fight or flight, you know? And we need to be really conscious of that, and give people what they need. Sometimes it is cake, Sam. Tea and biscuits work really well. Just to break that, you know, “I’m the change manager coming in, and let’s talk about this new thing that’s coming.” You know, let’s try and get a relationship first.

Sam: So it’s about being human, isn’t it? And just having that chat with people? Rather than making it really formal…

Jack: Yeah. Yeah. Which we do, because we work in this sort of quite a structured programme, project, delivery of change sometimes. And you’re spot on. You know, having that different way of just coming round to it, I think is really important.

Accessibility and inclusion throughout technology change

Sam: So Jack, I remember that programme that we’ve originally worked on together. It was for a big government department, and there was quite a lot of concern very early on about one specific community within that organisation. So can you expand on what you did about that, and how we engaged with that community?

Jack: Yeah, of course. So, we were made aware quite early that there were a few communities, but the one in particular that you reference for adaptive technology or assisted technology for, you know, people that needed a little bit more technical support, and what do we mean by that? So, those that had… As an example, a visual impairment. And they would need additional software or hardware to support them.

And, so, what we did, is we employed a change manager specifically for that community.

And it was no easy task,’cause we didn’t know how many people were in this community. We didn’t know where they were. So it was a real task to make sure that we were inclusive of that community. We gave them an opportunity to talk to us, and we were able to support them in the ways that they needed.

We’d learnt previously, I think, didn’t we, that, you know, this particular community were kind of often either ignored, or not spoken to at relevant stages. So, you know, it felt so important to us to make sure we gave that real priority.

Sam: I think we’d been made aware, hadn’t we? That in previous change programmes, this community had been left to the end. You know, their needs had not been taken into consideration. And as a result, particularly, in this particular government department, there was quite a large community, and it had a very negative impact on previous programmes, So that was why we prioritised it, wasn’t it?

Jack: And you think how important that was in the larger scheme of ensuring that we were able to support that community, especially being sort of forewarned that this was a real impact, and had a bad history before.

So I know that our change manager had to overcome a lot of sort of maybe negativity, scepticism? Quite possibly, to begin with, ’cause, “This has not been done before. We’re always last on the list.” But now they’ve got, you know, that dedicated change manager in that space to help them. It was really important.

Sam: I remember the relationship that she built with that community. It was absolutely wonderful. And actually, here we are several years later, and she’s still there.

Jack: Yeah, that says everything.

Sam: Well, Jack, it’s been absolutely great speaking to you today. Thank you so much for coming on “The Diary of a Change Manager.”

Jack: Thank you for having me.