Michael : I’m really delighted that you’re going to talk to us about managing stakeholders – I think that’s one of the key issues in really getting anything done these days. So can I ask you firstly to kick off by just introducing yourself, saying a little bit about yourself?
Lana: I’m Lana Holman. I work as the HR strategy and policy development manager for West Oxfordshire District Council. We’re a small rural district council including roughly a three hundred and fifty staff. I’m the most senior HR professional in the council – I’m responsible for the whole portfolio of HR issues including recruitment, reward, development, and organizational development.
Michael: Before we get in to managing stake holders can we get in a little bit as to what are some of the main issues that a council has these days.
Lana: I think, certainly, small councils will be facing a bit of the same small issues that we have. There’s a whole host of issues around succession planning, pay and fair deal and managing change – But I think at the moment the critical issues effecting most councils are to do with the efficiency agenda – in other words doing the same with less, or doing more with the same and looking for more opportunities to share with another other organizations.
Michael: Now – We’re going to be talking about getting stakeholders to buy in and getting stakeholders agreement. What’s the reason – I know it sounds obvious, but I’d like to ask you the straight question – Why is that important? And why is that particularly important at the moment?
Lana: Getting stake holders to do anything?
Lana: Well. It’s particularly important if you want to get results really. We have limited resources – at the end of the day we want to use them to the best of our abilities, to the best of our capacities – To move forward and develop.
I think it’s crucial in any issue that you get buyers buy in and make it work. I’ll give you an example – We’ve recently implemented a revised appraisal system that has taken the best part of a year – but of for the first time ever, in history, as that I can remember, people from all levels of the spectrum from directors to even manual workers are saying “Hey, this is a really good thing.’
And I believe that the success behind that is that we did discuss it with everybody. We did discuss their fears etc – and we tried to come up with a best fit that would satisfy everybody, and that has enabled us to move forwards, and hopefully that will enable us to improve performance across the organization and therefore ultimately provide a better service to the public.
Michael: OK. Now you’ve almost already answer the question I’m going to ask next, but you may choose to add something to it, or reflect on what you’ve said – For the organization and the community that you serve, what are some of the benefits of getting everyone’s agreement, and getting everyone in the same direction?
Lana: I think ultimately it will boil down to better service and more cost effective service for the public. And again it will hit on the efficiency agenda that we will probably be able to do more with the same, or the same with less. It’s about having effective systems in place that enable people to do things efficiently and effectively within their limited resources. so it’s really important, I think, in that sense.
Michael: OK. Now this might sound a bit of a strange question, but I’d still like you to answer it. You’re doing this facilitation job with stake holders – where and when do you do it? Is there a particularly good time to do it? Is there a particularly good place to do it, like the on the phone, in the office, on the internet – anywhere? Time and place.
Lana: Time and place. That’s a difficult one really, because I suppose it spans all of the way through my job. It might be unofficially, in the corridor trying to convince someone to take a certain path of action. It might be something more formal, like an agenda-driven meeting with the management team. It could be on a project lead by myself, in which case in most situations there would probably be a form of structure behind it – a structured agenda.
Time and place – the place would normally be, in those circumstances, a meeting room within the work place somewhere. And time would normally be any time throughout the day – there isn’t necessarily a set time for these things because there could be a meeting, an afternoon project, in the evening – whenever.
It’s almost wherever and whenever.
Michael : Again, very top-level answer. What are some of the key behaviors or key things that you actually do that help the process along?
Lana: I think the most important things are actively listening so people do genuinely think that people are taking their concerns on board – So having empathy and being genuinely aware of their different perspectives, trying to get inside their heads and understand where they’re coming from – And making them aware that you understand where they’re coming from – which is difficult, but that’s through active listening, nodding, encouraging, very positive body language etc.
But also I think that being able to clearly put across the pro’s and cons of an argument, and being able ot to back that up with demonstrating professional knowledge and skill – in whatever area it is that you’re exploring, etc. I think also just a general ability to be approachable and interact well with others so people aren’t afraid to put across their suggestions, that might seem a bit silly, but everyone needs to put their cards on the table. And I suppose also having the credibility to be able to do something like that.
Michael: A question that comes to mind as you say that – One of the interesting challenges if you listen to people, you realize that there can be very different and conflicting points of view of how to handle things – Which I think in some ways is why people don’t listen, because they don’t want to realize just how different some peoples views can be.
Very top level again, if people have very conflicting views, how do you facilitate their alignment?
Lana: OK. It’s very difficult. And it doesn’t always happen. But where possible I think that the only thing that you can do is to get them to meet in the middle somewhere – get them to accept some sort of compromise and realize that what they want is acceptable to them, but get them to switch to the other persons point of view and it isn’t necessarily the same as what the other person wants. So in the appraisal process we have the sales management team who very much wanted a performance give driven – quite hard – system, and at the far end of the spectrum we had people that would say ‘We don’t want the system as an excuse to discipline us. We want to be able to talk about our issues in an open environment without feeling threatened, and without feeling that it will be used for discipline.’
So we have two completely different, conflicting points of view there. And it is impossible, almost, to satisfy both completely. So we have to get them gradually move a little closer together, or at least so they’re not so far apart. It might be for example, on one meeting where the senior managers wanted, for example, quite hard performance ratings – One under performance – Two OK – Three good – Four very good – etc. But then again, looking at that terminology and forming that proposal there are things that we would have to hear from the other side – and that might be objectivity for instance
Haven’t got a clue what I was saying here?!! I’d probably need to listen to the recording and advise on this bit I’m afraid!!!
. So it softened it around the edges, so I could say. And the way that I’ve gotten around it in the past is that I’ve presented my ideas to people that have given both sides of the story.
And eventually – through doing this process again and again you’ll find that those both sides eventually soften.
Michael: OK. So you’re saying that it’s not necessarily an instant process, it may actually require lots of listening, lots of ideas and lots of hard work.
Lana: Definitely. It’s very rarely, if ever, and instant process. There’s very few ‘Aha, I’m right’ moments. But it’s really is a lot of hard work, a lot of persuasion and a lot of ‘Have a look at this.’. It’s not just about asking for peoples ideas, it’s about putting proposals to them and then getting them to buy in to that, but all by a piece-by-piece basis.
Michael : What I’d like you to do is to take one aspect of the board
Is this the right word??
you’re talking to – it could be a meeting with a stakeholder – and just take me through how you’d play it – What you’d plan beforehand, what you’d do at the beginning of the meeting, how you’d end the meeting – Are you happy to do it for the meeting with the stakeholder?
Lana: Yes. That’s fine. I’ll do it with my senior management team because I quite frequently have those with them on these sorts of issues.
Michael: And when you say senior management team is that them as an individual or them as a group?
Lana: The as a group. It will be the directors and the chief executive of the council.
Michael: Brilliant – OK. When do you start planning for it? As far as you’re concerned when does the process start?
Lana: The process would start maybe when I’m formulating an idea or rewriting a policy, or implementing a project, for instance. that in some shape or form would need consultation with the stockholders or authorization form from them – So a starting point, for example, if I’m writing a policy on relocation, the first port of call after I’ve done that or developed it, or rewritten it, is to take it to the senior management team to discuss the options with them. After after I’ve got their buy-in and agreement, and made any changes. And then it goes through a series of other people and changes and a process of consultation.
So the very, very starting point will be the moment that I’ve formulated an idea or finished a policy etc. What I’d then do is forward that document or that information to the senior management team via a formal agenda and then I’d be invited along to a meeting.
Michael: And what sort of things – You’ve got it on the agenda – in what sort of ways do you prepare for the meeting?
Lana: Well usually I would have submitted the piece of work, probably 90% of the time with a covering report which would give background information, reasons or submission, financial implications, that sort of thing. So I would have fought thought through most of the key issues prior to actually attending the meeting and I would have sent a document to them in advance – So that would on average be a week or ten days beforehand.
Michael: And would normally any of them talk to you beforehand or would they expect to do it at the meeting?
Lana: Sometimes, but generally, when formally, it will be done at the meetings where they can discuss them.
Michael: And when you go to a meeting, what is your outcome for that meeting? What do you actually want to happen – Do you want agreement? Do you want them to feel good about it? What do you actually want them to get out of that meeting? Do you want them to understand the implications of what they’re doing? What outcome have you got for that first meeting?
Lana: It could be any of the things that you’ve just mentioned actually – It could be agreement to move forward. It could be direction to go out and look for something else – I’ve brought something to the table which might not be what they want – What do they want instead? So I would need them to give me a still, steer or clear direction to go out and research something else.
It could be – let me think about this – I think really my outcome would be either ‘it’s agreement, let’s go with it.’ or if it’s not agreement then what do we do differently. So as long as I leave that meeting feeling clear that I know where I’m going next with the piece of work, even if it’s to put it through the shredder, and put it in the bin, that’s fine – as long as I know.
My outcome is to have a clear steer as of to where to go next with that piece of work.
Michael: That sounds fine. As you do this, as you’re at the meeting, what sort of – with my NLP hat on we talk about State – What are the states that you want to be able to access, that you want to be able to be in as you go through that process.
Lana: Inquisitive, creative, knowledgeable, professional, credible.
Michael: That’s fine. It just gives me an idea of the states that would be useful to you and obviously the things that you’ve mentioned sound like they would be perfectly useful to you in that situation.
In doing this job well, what beliefs do you have about yourself? What beliefs do you have about other people – your stakeholders?
Lana: I suppose I have conflicting beliefs in myself really. There’s a part of me – well, the majority of me, I’d like to think – thinks that I’m the professional HR specialist, and that I’m there to get the right direction to take the work further and to satisfy all of the state stake holders. But then again there’s also the other part of me that thinks that I’m a frightened little girl, that doesn’t know what she’s talking about – but I think that’s my internal chatterbox, and I know how to turn it off. So that’s just a limiting belief really.
So basically I think that I’m the professional, knowledgeable HR specialist, and that I need there their help to ensure that whatever we implement for the organization is the best thing that we can do bearing in mind the circumstances.
Michael : Can I just add a bit? When you said about the frightened little girl, I like that in a way, because in you saying that it shows that you have a certain amount of honesty and you can actually express how you feel. It may have some use at times even if you keep it vaguely under control.
OK – What do you believe about your stakeholders?
Lana: I believe, again, that they’re professional, credible people who are experts in their own areas of work, but together – it sounds a bit naff – but together we can form a type of synergy I suppose, and that together we can bring about the best result for the organization – So if we work well together we can really do a good job. But I think that the stakeholders, at times, need to be aware of their own specific interests and ensure that they don’t override the interest of the council overall.
Michael : OK. This may or may not be an easy question to answer- but as you do this job, do you have a mission or vision? When you are doing this job to the very best of your ability, who are you?
Lana : I’m Lana. I’m doing what works best for the organization that I’m working with. I’m doing what I feel is genuinely the best thing for the stakeholders. I’m doing what I really feel could make a difference in the organization – Be it rewriting a basic policy to redesigning a competency framework for instance. I’m doing what I think is best for the organization. I’m a driver in moving it forward – that’s how I feel.
Michael : And, again a slightly NLP question – If you had to describe what you do, and the relationship between you and your stakeholders and their end customers in the form of a story or metaphor, or with cartoon characters – How would you describe it?
Lana : I’m visualizing building blocks here – but I’m not actually doing hands on building myself. I can’t say Bob the builder. I’d say maybe more of an architect role – So perhaps I’m an architect on taking on board their wants, their needs and I’m trying to draw a diagram or a vision of what the end result will be like – and then I’ll pass it on to other people to achieve that vision.
Michael : That’s brilliant. As we’re coming to the end of this – is there anything that you think is important that we’ve left out, or is there anything you’d like to emphasis because you think that it is key in you getting the results that you get
Lana : I don’t think so. It really is about being really patient with people – Really taking on board other peoples concerns regardless of how high or low level they are – But by really taking on their concerns and seeing things from their point of view and therefore trying to steer everyone together into some sort of middle road – Something that everyone is going to be happy with. And I do believe that the most successful projects will be implemented – that’s a general term for the pieces of work – are ones where everyone in some shape or form – Sometimes you can see it across the organization, everyone has had the opportunity to see a focus group or input via the internet or something like that – And at the end of the day the result is in those circumstances.
If you turn to the things that have lasted the longest, they’re the most successful – So again I think it’s a matter of having some tenacity, some patience, being a little bit creative – But really more than anything it’s seeing things from people perspective and having empathy with them and demonstrating that.
To me that’s probably the most important thing in achieving results.
Michael: Excellent. You’ve been good enough to talk about what you do and have talked about the skills needed in order to do it – Is there anything that you’d like to plug or anything that you’d like to bring to our audiences attention.
‘ It is always being said that HR needs to get out there and learn the business’
Lana: I think that one thing I’d like to plug briefly – That’s the HR in local government. It is always being said that ‘HR needs to get out there and learn the business’ – I appreciate that and understand that, and when you’re an organization that is producing a product or certain services then that’s probably crucial – but when you’re working for local government there’s such a diverse range of services that you’re providing HR for, including refuse collection through to town planning, for instance – From housing through to housing economic and environmental development.
So it’s very difficult to get in there and know your business.
So we are criticized a bit, but it’s incredibly difficult managing such a diverse range of functions.
Having a had a public sector and private sector job background I can honestly say that the local government one is probably the most challenging and at times difficult. Also there are different rules and regulations etc as well that actually make it a very complex and challenging job – So I think my plug there is for the other HR people in local government where we work in similar or structurally diverse organizations.
Michael : I like that. I find that really interesting. I’d really like to end it by thanking you for your time.
Lana : Thank you Michael, my pleasure.
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