Understanding the motivations and behaviours of those who influence and are affected by our major programmes is complicated, and never more so than in the NHS. With ineffective engagement of stakeholders regularly cited as a common cause of project failure in healthcare, stakeholder management is an important discipline to master.

There are many tools and techniques available to help and we use PRIME Intelligence as a way of managing attitudes and behaviours to positively influence programme outcomes (see attached file).

Here we have identified the top tips from PRIME Intelligence’s five key themes to get you started:

Political primacy

Top tip one - Develop your team’s “whole picture” political understanding

The NHS is a highly intricate environment: a vast, federated system of interdependent organisations. An understanding of stakeholders’ drivers and influences within this sphere is essential for any programme team. Facilitate a workshop-type discussion in order to develop understanding of these aspects (see attached document). Be explicit – ask who in your team feels comfortable operating in this arena.

Next, develop a “second order” stakeholder map with your team (i.e. one that seeks to map each stakeholder’s disposition, predictability and power) and talk through its implications to your programme.

Relationship building

Top tip two - Take some time out to “know yourself” and “know your programme”

Self-awareness of the relative strengths of your programme team is vital, especially when working virtually or across organisational boundaries in a local health community and beyond. This can be facilitated online, using a personality inventory such as Belbin. Bring your team and their results together, discuss each other’s strengths and differences, and – using real examples to bring this conversation to life – develop an optimal mapping of team members to key stakeholders. Discuss potential stakeholder engagement scenarios and how the different strengths of team members can be brought to bear.

Idea propagation

Top tip three - Develop the programme’s key change story (for mantra-like repetition)

Maintaining positive relationships with clinicians, staff and other influential opinion formers is key to enhancing the credibility of your programme and retaining senior support. Challenge yourself as to whether you have a central “change story”, a simple message that compels others to accept the case for change.

Remember that the technical or economic case is insufficient – your message needs to resonate with frontline staff and patients too. Continue to deconstruct it until you get to a readily accessible message and, once you find it, lead by example – repeat it over and over.

Over time, seek to adapt your message such that it remains relevant to patient care and other central issues in the NHS: quality, innovation, prevention and efficiency are all buzzwords of our times.

Management assurance

Top tip four – Find a leader who will take responsibility

Clear leadership and governance is critical to achieving successful outcomes, especially where delivery accountabilities are blurred across organisational boundaries.

Ask yourself whether you have a clear, senior clinical leader who accepts – unequivocally – ultimate responsibility for delivering the programme and who has the capacity and authority to deal with the inevitable “blockers”.

If the answer is no, have the professional integrity to resolve this aspect urgently.

Think of Lord Darzi’s 2008 review of the NHS, High Quality Care for All. There is no doubt that Darzi’s personal drive and visible commitment to extensive stakeholder consultation - spanning all levels and constituencies of the NHS - was a hallmark of his review, and set a powerful example for others to follow.

Enabled communication

Top tip five - Use a variety of media to communicate with key colleagues

Clinicians are busy people; do not be surprised if they do not read long reports or missives about your programme. Your message will be influenced by the media you choose, so think about a new way to get it across: don’t just send an e-mail.

Try new things. Use video and audio, set up a programme website or blog, run lunch-time “drop by” presentations in your trust. Be visible - communicate by walking around. Most importantly, experiment and keep on trying new ideas until you find out what works. Ask questions and take careful note of feedback.