Building response-ability

Accountability breeds response-ability.
–Steven R. Covey

An important part of creating stakeholder engagement is building a sense of accountability and commitment. We’ll talk more next month about how to do that. For now I want to focus on a couple of stakeholder issues that are common in higher education.

First, there is the issue of how to engage stakeholders as a leader. Several years ago I was being interviewed by an MBA student who wanted to learn more about leadership in higher education. One of her questions was along the lines of “how long is it from the time the executive leader announces a change until the time it’s implemented in your organization?”  She was quite surprised that one of the possible answers is “never.”  If stakeholders are not engaged, they may decide to wait it out until things return to normal. We’ve all known of changes that have been viewed as my-leader-read-a-new-book fads. Key stakeholders never changed their behavior, and the initiative died on the vine.

Second, and maybe more common, are the times when we need to lead change from the middle of an organization with key stakeholders who are peers or even leaders who are senior to us. Building collaborative networks and partnerships are more important now than they’ve ever been.

I like Steven R. Covey’s quote above.  As he notes in Principle Centered Leadership, “we will soon break our resolutions if we don’t regularly report our progress to somebody and get feedback on our performance.”  While reporting and feedback look very different depending on our roles in relation to key stakeholders, they are important parts of a stakeholder management plan. It’s almost impossible for people to be engaged with a change if they believe no one cares what they’re doing to support it. Holding people accountable and communicating frequently about the change overall and their specific roles enhance their ability to play their part in moving changes forward.

What have you done recently to build response-ability for a change?

Dee Anne Bonebright


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