A few days ago I saw a report on how President Obama decided to launch a discussion on LinkedIn to solicit feedback on his jobs plan.  Within a very short period of time the discussion elicited over 700 responses.  While I am not surprised given the topic and the profile of the leader involved that there were so many comments.  I am frankly not sure how the Obama administration will handle all the comments, however that’s not the point that I was thinking of.

This news item reminds me of so many projects that stakeholders are invited to participate in either by providing direct feedback or reviewing certain documents and commenting on them.  What I find interesting is that in many of these instances organizational leaders are either unprepared to handle the response or unwilling to consider the feedback.  Whether it is due to a process problem or an issue of thinking things through, leaders owe it to stakeholders to consider some of the following questions:

  • Why do we need feedback from stakeholders?
  • What type of information do we need from stakeholders and on what elements of the project?
  • How will we use this feedback/input?
  • Are we willing to change deliverables, timelines, scope, etc… based on the stakeholder feedback?

Once these type of questions are addressed, the organization will be in a better position to engage stakeholders and handle their feedback.  I recall several years ago when I worked at IBM that our new CEO Sam Palmisano initiated an effort focused on updating the organizational core values.  At some point in the planning phase it was decided that for the core values to be reflective of the organization, everyone would have an opportunity provide input into the process.  However, soliciting input and feedback from over 350,000 employees is no joke.  It requires not only a well thought out strategy for how to incorporate feedback but a very detailed plan on how to engage them, what to involve them in, and how to consolidate their input.  Needless to say, there were some in the market who were skeptical that the effort would succeed, but it did.  I believe it was successful because the leaders of IBM spent the time needed to address some of the issues outlined above (and some I have not thought of).

The lesson learned here is very simple.  Project managers and leaders should be careful what they wish for when it comes to engaging stakeholders.  They need to be fully prepared prior to even hinting that there are opportunities for engagement, otherwise the project becomes at high risk of failure due to a mismatch in expectations.