How To Influence Stakeholders Of A Transformation

I think we can all agree that in order to get an organization to internalize the Lean/Agile/Discovery mindset, a lot of stakeholders must be influenced. Moreover, the pesky thing about stakeholders is that they are all different. They believe in different things, adopt different values, have different experiences, and are subject to different pressures. A single message is thus unlikely to resonate equally well with all of them, or at least, that is my experience. Therefore, I find it useful to think of different ways to reframe my message. I now try to meet them where they are by casting the various benefits of a transformation (link to Why Bother article) in a different light based on the person’s concerns, or at least likely concerns if I can’t ascertain for sure. Here are some examples that have worked for me:

Line Managers

Line managers are typically responsible for demonstrably getting things done through their team. In traditional organizations, these managers have to report the team’s progress to superiors. It should thus be no surprise that their immediate reaction to a coach’s request to let the team self-organize is met with fear and doubt. Hell, most of the principles that underpin the Agile manifesto can be perceived as heresy. That fear is understandable. I’ve experienced it myself. It can be scary to remain responsible for the outcome while letting go of the traditional controls, however illusionary they might be. I have had success allaying that fear when I was able to establish convincingly that self-organization leads to greater ownership of outcomes, which leads to more creative solutions to problems, which are themselves the precursors of good results.


Business executives must also support cultural transformation. As an Agile coach and friend of mine is fond of saying, “If the boss isn’t talking about it, it’s unlikely to be viewed as important.” How do you get someone responsible for the Profit and Loss Statement to support a change that demands relaxing, if not eliminating the traditional controls of schedules, status reports, and feature/content contracts? The key is to make the case for a different path to great financial results. For example, the transformation is in part about developing the skill to differentiate and emphasize the high-value work at the expense of the lower-value one. By putting more of our investment toward our best bets, we tilt the business odds in our favor. And while we perhaps make fewer promises about the future – history tells us that promises based on false certainty are frequently broken anyway – we know that we generally hold a better hand, as in poker, than we did before the transformation.

Sales And Business People

In many circumstances, in order to get the invaluable customer feedback, we will have to seek the assistance of sales or business people. When I have requested access to the customer, I have often been met with the fear that comes from bringing one’s customer inside the sausage factory (this article contains tips on overcoming the fears). Those fears, real or imagined, must be weighed against the benefits of information value for the company and increased engagement for customers. I have found that people will agree that the ability to deliver more customer value and increase the loyalty of customers in the process is a win-win proposition.

The Doers

To me, the most important people in a transformation are the people who get the work done. Call them individual contributors, staff, or simply people (though, please, not the dehumanizing  “resources”). In most environments, that’s a mix of engineers, technicians, analysts, marketers, accountants, lawyers, writers, designers, and others. Most of them view any proposal for change with a cynicism cultivated by yearly process changes that usually only serve to make their lives more difficult for no apparent benefit. When done honestly, I consider a Lean or Agile transformation different, because it is culturally driven, not process-driven. To dispel the fear of abuse (a strong word, I know) by the next wave of process, I like to talk about the principles of autonomy, self-organization, greater business context, more authentic feedback, teamwork and collaboration, and impediment removal. I never promise that it’s all sunshine and rainbows. However, I do genuinely believe that it leads to a better quality of life for all. That usually resonates, and raises the bar for expectations, and I’m fine with that.

Meeting Them Where They Are

To effect a successful Lean or Agile transformation, all you have to do is change product development, marketing, sales, customer support, finance, manufacturing, and Human Resources, but that’s about it. Obviously, you are not going to change these functions yourself, so you need to influence stakeholders. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, there is only one way to get anyone to do anything. You need to make them want to do it. Thus, as change agents, we need to learn how best to position the benefits that go along with a transformation. I suggest that targeted messaging should be one tool we have. Do you have a similar experience?

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