When there is a complex decision to be made, it can be easy to get bogged down in the multitude of factors and variables that influence, inform and involve that decision. Identifying what actually will be decided and, even more importantly, where (and where not) input from stakeholders will advise that decision, can greatly clarify the decision-making process.
We refer to this portion – where stakeholders can influence the outcome – as the scope of the engagement. This is usually a component of the whole decision to be made. In Delaney + Associates’ half-day IAP2 Decision Makers’ seminar, I’ve observed that participants often have a series of ‘aha’ moments as they apply this principle to thinking about their own projects.
There is a common fear among organizations approaching a decision that will involve stakeholder participation, that by engaging they will create vulnerability for themselves. There is apprehension that stakeholders will somehow be or become disgruntled, and a decision maker’s social capital will be eroded. However, Richard Delaney argues that, by correctly applying IAP2 principals, establishing the scope of your engagement before it begins, and clearly communicating this to your stakeholders, such risks can virtually be eliminated.
Often decision makers confuse the scope of the engagement with the scope of the entire project/decision, and this can make engagement seem risky. It’s important to remember that any project has “givens” or non-negotiables. These are facts, budgets, resources and other elements of the project that are not up for debate. Plus, there are always certain components of a decision that will be made internally.
By communicating the givens, and clarifying the scope of the engagement to stakeholders in a timely and meaningful way, you can reduce or eliminate the risk of engagement. Your stakeholders will then understand what they can influence – and what they can’t – and they will have reasonable expectations for their participation. It’s simple expectation management.
It is also important to remember that the scope of the engagement may change for different components of the same project. You may find that you are informing stakeholders on one portion of the project, and it is another aspect where you are truly collaborating with them.
The important take-away here is that the perceived risk of engagement is most often rooted in not having a clear definition of what aspects of the decision you are engaging on. This risk can be significantly reduced or eliminated by carefully planning and communicating your engagement, so you, and your stakeholders, are clear of what is being asked of them and how their input will be used.
Take our Decision Makers’ course and learn this and other powerful reasons for why engagement leads to sustainable decisions.