The term Stakeholder Management carries with it a range of definitions and meanings but for the sake of this article I am going to adopt the meaning of “Managing Stakeholder Expectations”.  If we are to manage the expectations of the stakeholder it is imperative that we know and understand those expectations, and this can only be achieved through meaningful communication with the stakeholders. The Project Manager needs to engage with and discuss with the stakeholders, which leads us into the area of Stakeholder Engagement.

When working in the Middle East I was advised that having identified the key stakeholders it would be advisable to meet and communicate with them on a regular basis, even if there was nothing new to communicate.  If you don’t then there is an ever increasing risk that the stakeholder may feel that the project manager is ‘hiding bad news’ and will then seek to ‘change things’ without consultation, having made this decision this now becomes the new ‘norm’.  In an attempt to avoid this I met with a number of key stakeholders on almost a daily basis, this had the benefit of a partnership developing where trust and respect were forefront in our dealings with each other – we engaged with each other.  Find out how often the various stakeholders require communication; some will want it often (daily) others may only require something monthly or quarterly.  Establish how they prefer to be communicated with, formal written reports, slightly less formal point briefs, visual presentations, an executive summary etc.  The project manager needs to ensure that the content of the communication is the same to ALL the stakeholders.  It is not unusual to encounter a ‘silo mentality’ amongst stakeholders where they don’t actively discuss with each other but take a degree of satisfaction at pointing out that they received a briefing where others may not have had or that were given a slightly different brief.

Life and business in the Middle East is complex; Culture, Politics, Religion, Business are all intertwined and for a Project Manager to steer their project to a successful conclusion requires that they have a clear understanding on how these factors affect each other.  Understanding that in the Arab world the left hand is used for ablutions and should therefore NEVER be used for eating, accepting food and drink, passing over documents etc.  The showing of the soles of footwear is deemed insulting by many (most) in the Middle East. In the Middle East many businesses still adopt a version of the Majalis etiquette where visitors are welcomed and served refreshments accompanied by social talk before any business is tabled, during this period it is not unusual for apparent interruptions to take place with phone calls answered and staff entering the office to get documents signed. To ignore these cultural issues is to insult your host (client/customer) and runs the very real risk of you loosing business.

Ian Cribbes

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