My son, Michael Meacham, is a mechanical engineer and team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where they built Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory robotic rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012. This project, which took more than ten years of design and fabrication, had an enormous number of interlocking designs that needed to be developed and delivered on a schedule that would get the Rover to a predetermined launch date, set years in advance.
When I asked my son how they accomplished this, he said that stakeholder alignment is the number-one job of managers. He explained that there is a written communications protocol that guides stakeholder buy-in. Every design has a list of stakeholders who must sign off on it before it is declared complete. The list also stipulates which stakeholders can stop the design and which are only consulting to it.
Each manager has dates by which the relevant stakeholders must sign off that they understand and approve the process. To ensure that the stakeholders are willing and able to do that, the manager must engage in the communication, education, and exchange that gives stakeholders the information they need in order to trust the process and thereby sign off on the predetermined schedule.
Only by professionalizing a stakeholder alignment process could NASA succeed at producing such immense, complex, and interdependent projects.
(NASA also routinely holds acknowledgment ceremonies and awards those who have contributed significant innovations to the space program. I am proud to say my son Mike is a recipient of many of these innovation awards.) You can see some of his work at JPL’s show, “Crazy Engineering” Watch Now
Leading for results takes time. If you are focused and consistent, you will make steady progress toward your purpose and your vision of the future. At some point you may need to let go and accept that others may begin to play larger roles in realizing your purpose.
You may move along making small changes, and then one day a major stakeholder who was not fully committed aligns with you, and you find your purpose manifested in ways that are beyond your wildest dreams!
I found this to be true in my own work with the MSH Leadership Development Program (LDP). Today the LDP that I designed with MSH has been offered in more than forty-five countries, delivered by hundreds of local facilitators without my direct involvement.
This exponential expansion of our original LDP in Egypt happened after years of aligning stakeholders—and a great deal of letting go.
You will be successful when you accomplish the results you have envisioned. But more importantly, you will be fulfilled when you see others around you making their own commitments to achieving those results and extending that work far beyond your reach. By aligning stakeholders to face challenges and achieve results, you are turning your shared dreams for a better future into reality!
- Who are the people who can either help or hinder you in accomplishing your results?
- What are they most interested in?
- What are they most worried about?
- What do you need to do to get their support?
Stay in touch, keep those questions and comments coming! Joan
For more on this, see Practice Four “Aligning Your Stakeholders” in my book, Leading for Results.