How to Get Stakeholder Buy-In for Your Strategic Initiatives

Written by

Jonathon Andrews

When it comes to executing strategic initiatives, you’re not going to get very far without securing stakeholder buy-in.

Whoever your stakeholders are — senior management, the board, suppliers, partners — if you don’t have their support, then your path forward is going to be full of blockers and complications.

There needs to be consensus on the priorities. And to get consensus and buy-in, you need to be able to explain and substantiate these proclaimed priorities.

Here is one way to achieve this, based on our own consulting experiences of managing competing biases to secure stakeholder buy-in.

Stakeholder buy-in challenges

Firstly, meet our client, George: CEO of a healthcare organization with 4,000 staff and an annual revenue of $300m.

The annual strategic planning session is due. George wants to rein in the spend of the previous years and decides that all Business Units (BUs) now need to compete for project funding from a centrally controlled budget.

Each BU immediately twigs that this budget will only cover a fraction of the group’s desired initiatives — of which there are 70. In fact, the combined budget estimates of these 70 initiatives already totals three times the central budget.

On the surface, the BUs agree on the importance of limiting the number of projects. But in reality, the gloves are off: everyone wants that funding.

So, George has quite the battle on his hands to achieve organization-wide consensus on what the priority initiatives should be.

Where to start?

Stakeholder buy-in needs a common reference point

The board had published their strategic priorities, which included typical targets around regulatory compliance, growing revenue and reducing operational costs. These priorities were applicable to all BUs, meaning that they provided a common reference point from which to assess the strategic initiatives.

With this starting point, our first task was to capture baseline information about the initiatives. To drive consistency, we used a master spreadsheet to store the name, owner, scope, budget and expected benefits. We asked every BU to score each of their initiatives on a scale of 1–10 against aspects of strategic alignment and implementation risk/effort for the organization.

That was where the “fun” started. As the data came in, it was evident some BUs were assessing their initiatives objectively, while the less influential BUs were exploiting the process by overstating value and understating implementation effort. In fact, one BU scored all their initiatives perfect 10s for strategic alignment!

In the absence of direct authority over the BUs, our polite requests that they revisit their assessments went largely ignored.

What now?

Stakeholder engagement – planning session

We decided to facilitate an off-site planning day with the CEO and executive team, where each BU would pitch its initiatives to the group for relative prioritization.

The BU leaders flew into town primed to pitch. Under the spotlight from the CEO and their executive peers, the embellished scores were quickly exposed and moderated. The “Must Do” initiatives and the lower priority “Can’t Do Now” initiatives quickly revealed themselves. This allowed for more detailed debate on the cluster of initiatives in the “Zone of Contention”, requiring negotiation and CEO arbitration on the final call in some cases.

After valuable debate, the team reached consensus on the winners and losers. Open discussion and clarity around the assessment criteria were the key to gaining that all-round stakeholder buy-in on investment priorities.

The set of prioritized strategic initiatives was handed over to the Project Management Office for sequencing and detailed project planning. And that was that, in terms of our role.

Two tips for securing stakeholder alignment

Our engagement with George was an exhausting and labor-intensive process.

Don’t get me wrong — the process we followed was sound and deemed a success by all involved. But it had been non-stop between facilitating the discussion and frantically updating the spreadsheets and charts to screen a “live ladder” of which initiatives were in and out of the funding cut.

Ultimately, success boiled down to 2 things:

  1. Facilitating a stakeholder workshop
  2. Articulating clear and consistent assessment criteria

So could there have been a shortcut? Or a way to accelerate the process?

Yes; of course. This scenario is why roadmap tools like Jibility were built.

Jibility is an ideal tool for facilitating strategic planning sessions, especially in the context of getting everyone on the same page for how to best achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. This, of course, includes securing stakeholder buy-in.

Jibility guides you through either of two variations of a unique methodology for building a strategic roadmap: a 6-step capability-based approach and a 4-step objective-based approach. Which you apply ultimately depends on the level of substantiation you require versus the level of urgency.

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Free tool for strategic prioritization

Jibility is business architecture software which gives you a fast and consistent means of exposing the traceability of each initiative back to the strategic objectives. This means pet projects that sound great but don’t truly align can be identified and discarded early.

Jibility is a dynamic tool, whereby it’s easy to apply changes and see the impact on budget instantly — either within the initial workshop, or when a strategic pivot needs to happen out of the blue.