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March 15, 2017

A Song of Stakeholders: Lessons in Stakeholder Buy-In from Game of Thrones

4 mins read

Winter is here. And I’m not talking about the weather. I’m talking about the long, dark time we must endure while we wait for July and the premiere of season 7 of Game of Thrones.

Never fear, you don’t have to go far to get your GOT fix. Are you struggling to get your stakeholders on the same page? The players in Westeros provide a great backdrop for some lessons in getting buy-in (without all the death and dragons) that may also help make the wait more fun.

Read on for some ideas. And if this is still not enough, you can always re-take this quiz to learn your GOT management style (because if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably taken it once or twice already).

Lesson 1: Understanding what motivates people is key.

For purposes of this post, “stakeholders” means anyone you are working with to solve the problem at hand. This could mean customers, developers, product managers, or executives. Whatever their role, knowing what drives them will help you make progress.

This is especially true of your most outspoken stakeholders. Take Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, two women who want to be in charge and are not afraid to act. Both are equal parts scary and inspiring. Cersei wants to protect her family legacy by any means necessary (including intense politics and burning things down), Dany wants to avenge her family legacy and make the world a better place (and also burn things down).

The lesson here is that there is always more to the story. If you have stakeholders who seem to be lighting fires at every turn, it’s time to dig a little deeper to understand what motivates them. Then you can focus on turning their passion into progress for your team.

Lesson 2: People need to see it to believe it.

Jon Snow may not know much about life, but he knows that the White Walkers are scary and coming for everyone in the Seven Kingdoms. Geography (and the occasional impalement) might hinder his efforts, mostly because he’s one of the few people who have seen them up close. He tries to share the news in writing, but nothing beats seeing the army of the dead in person.

The lesson here is to engage your stakeholders with compelling visuals early and often. Don’t just tell them how your approach will drastically improve their ROI, show them through working prototypes, mock-ups, etc. You’d be amazed how quickly people can change their mind once they see it for themselves.

Lesson 3: Communicate in ways that everyone understands.

Building on Lesson 2, even if you live in Dorne you can’t miss the significance of the white raven. It’s a clear indicator that something is happening.

Communicating about anything, from a change in direction to a launch date, should be as clear as possible. This is easier if your group is smaller, co-located or meeting daily. But when you need to loop in multiple stakeholders across functions or geographies, do your homework to figure the best vehicle to share information. You can send 1,000 brilliantly-worded emails, but you won’t get anywhere if no one reads them.

Lesson 4: Your key influencers may not be obvious.

There is what people say to the group, and then there is what they say elsewhere. Sometimes the path to your success lies somewhere in between. Fortunately, there are always people who can successfully navigate in this area. You know them, the project manager who the developers like, or the designer who has the CIO’s ear. They can talk to anyone and understand the energy of the team.

No one does this better than Varys. One minute he’s besties with Cersei and the next he’s having tea with her arch rival. Take a lesson from his playbook and be this hub of information if you can – or create it if you can’t. There’s probably someone on your team who is not a creepy pseudo-villain (or a suspected merman) who can help give you insight into just about any issue you might have.

Lesson 5: Don’t lose your head.

No GOT post would be complete without a nod (pun intended) to Ned Stark. The truth is, you will run into challenges whenever you are trying to get buy-in from a group of people who are trying to get something done. Keep your cool, stay engaged, and you might just end up playing to win!

Think this might be our most ridiculous post yet? Do you have your own GOT references and stakeholder lessons learned? Drop us a line!


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