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Balancing Stakeholders with Optimism and Intentionality

Published: Friday, October 12, 2018

I was a stubborn instructional designer.  In the few years that I held the Instructional Designer (ID) title, I learned some invaluable lessons.  One of the greatest of them all was balancing stakeholders.  Some stakeholders are flexible and don’t carry strong opinions.  Others want the ID to bend to their will even when it violates all best practices.  That’s where my stubbornness came into play.  In this quick post, I want to share how I’ve navigated the politics and pride through optimism and intentionality.  My hope is that you might be able to apply some of these best practices and find similar success.


Optimism: Ignore the naysayers

I’ve gone into several projects being told that the SME or Sponsor is difficult to work with.  In one case, I took it upon myself to revise a class designed by someone who had been with the company for over 40 years.  His “death by PowerPoint” on fire safety was hindering the effectiveness of the 2-hour, vitally important class.  Several of my colleagues had previously attempted to sway him to some best practices to no avail, so they assumed I’d have no better luck. While a lot went into my work to convince him to update the course, it ALL started with my mindset.  I didn’t believe that he would ignore a compelling case to improve the course; I just had to figure out how to persuade him.  Naysayers tend to shape our perspectives and therefore our interactions.  That, for the record, is why gossip/slander can be so damaging.  We often treat others according to the information we have.  Start with a clean slate and work hard to think positively of your SMEs and Sponsors, even when they seem to prove the naysayers right.  Naïve optimism works for entrepreneurs AND instructional designers.



Intentionality: Always prepare to defend your design, and do it

If you aren’t a reader, you should change that.  There is no better tool on your belt in discussions with stakeholders than a humble citation of a couple of books or articles.  In another project, I was asked by the Sponsor to rearrange the delivery of the information based on the way the tool was developed.  Without getting into the details, their approach made no sense and was shrouded in the “curse of knowledge” (that’s when you become so knowledgeable in a subject you lose sight of how much work it will take others to get where you are).  At this point, some IDs will buckle because they want to remain politically safe.  They don’t want to offend an upper stakeholder.  Obviously, I wouldn’t want to offend them either.  It’s all about approach.  I came to a meeting prepared with a three-pronged defense rooted in research.  I actually cited the books and articles specifically.  To wrap up my defense, I said, “I’m glad to take your approach; yet, I’d do you a disservice if I did not share with you why it will not work as well as you think.  Let’s try my approach, and if you hate it, I’ll go with yours.”  By the end of that project, not only did they prefer my approach, I gained their respect. 



It’s important to realize that good leaders/employees want your opinion.  I ended up getting a seat at the table for much bigger projects after both of these examples, and I believe it was through that optimism and intentionality.  I go into each project believing that I will be successful, even if it requires overcoming a few obstacles (like pride and politics).  I’m not afraid of the political missteps because I’m sincere.  I’m not working for a company to promote my own agenda; I want to do what’s best.  When people see the earnestness of a good ID, they favor them and promote them.  In your next project, keep your optimism regardless of the naysayers, and back your decisions with a few references.  You might find more than success in that project.

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