Keeping Everyone Happy

What your stakeholders need

You might think you’re all marching happily under the same banner but when you’re knee deep in a big project like a major curriculum review, dissenting voices soon start to emerge.

The overall goal might be the same but even slightly different expectations at the start can set people off in wildly different directions.

It’s inevitable that there are competing – and sometimes conflicting – priorities among students, academic staff and other internal and external stakeholders.

But although curriculum maps are wonderful documents, the process of creating them can be just as valuable. Getting those various stakeholders together to collaborate, reflect and discuss is a great opportunity to build relationships and strengthen teams.

But how do you turn a potential battlefield into a unifying experience? Our experience when implementing Sofia at Imperial helped us to spot where dissent could arise – and to devise a number of top tips for getting everyone on side.

Sofia clients get the benefit of this experience and expertise, through the built-in consultancy that comes with the package. But here’s a whistle-stop run down of seven steps to keeping your key people on side through the process.

1. Work out where the stakeholders’ interests are aligned – and where they’re not

The best time to get everyone on side is right at the beginning, when they’re still keen. Or even if they’re not keen, they’re at least fresh.

If you’re the project manager, once you’ve identified your key stakeholders, you need to take stock. List everyone’s roles and how the project outcome will affect them. Will their day to day jobs change as a result or will they have a more remote interest?

Next, evaluate what processes during the project are most important to them – and which outcomes will have the biggest impact. Does anyone have an absolutely vital objective or a disastrous scenario that would be a deal-breaker for them?

We know the vital importance of this upfront prep and that’s why we’ve built Imperial College’s curriculum review consultancy into the process. Our experts will work alongside your teams to optimise Sofia’s features for your own goals. Having that real-life experience at hand will help you shape your review efficiently and smoothly.

Roughly scope out the process and the outcomes as you see them at this stage – adding provisos for the unexpected – and check in with those stakeholders for their buy-in.

2. Agree priorities, manage expectations and set a timetable

It’s the start of the project and expectations may be running high. Time to puncture the bubble slightly.

Without demotivating anyone, you’ll need to be clear that the project can’t make all of the people happy all of the time.

Sometimes tough decisions will have to be agreed, compromises made and toes trodden on. That’s why it’s important to scope priorities at this stage: so they’re selected for the good of the programme, not based on who shouts the loudest or is the most efficient at getting things done.

Where time or money is likely to get in the way of the dream outcome, the team will have to agree what can be done right away and what will have to be shelved for the next round.

There’s a huge temptation to skip this step. Who wants to upset people before the project has even got going properly? Don’t skip it.

Your short term pain will be your long term gain. If you set expectations realistically at this stage, stakeholders will be more willing to compromise than down the line, when they’ve invested time and energy believing they’ll get their perfect outcome.

The old chestnut about ‘assume making an ass of you and me’ was never more true. Drag all the assumptions and internal politics out into the open and deal with them right now.

Sofia’s curriculum review consultancy could prove invaluable here. Having someone on hand who’s been through the process is the best way of predicting possible pitfalls.

3. Create a collaborative culture

Encourage members to leave bias, politics and one-upmanship at the door. Your project is a place for everyone to pool resources, create an environment where ideas can flourish and get everyone working towards a common goal.

Easier said than done.

This is where continuous quality improvement (CQI) comes in, with its focus on both people and data. Team leaders and members might be used to applying CQI principles elsewhere but forget to bring them to other projects. In fact, it’s the perfect framework for curriculum review.

There’s rarely genuine space for academics and other staff to share, reflect and discuss their work. The process of curriculum mapping creates this forum and requires valuable analysis and unmissable opportunities to learn from each other.

This invariably breaks down boundaries and prevents programmes from being taught in isolation: a unifying experience that truly puts the student at the heart of the conversation.

4. Work out when your stakeholders want their needs met

Not all academic cycles are in synch. Assessment, budget rounds, accreditation demands… the year is peppered with different deadlines for different stakeholders.

They might be vitally important to your stakeholders – and burned into their brains – but if they don’t make them explicit upfront to everyone else, those different deadlines will creep up and bite you.

Find out if team members need an element of your work completed by a certain time – and why. If these interim deadlines are agreed as achievable, add them to your timeframe and break down the steps needed to achieve them.

Task your team with working together stay on track, flagging up when things are veering off so they can be steered back on course – or deadlines adjusted.

These interim deadlines will also inform your final deadline, giving you dates to work against as you go along and identifying any delays in plenty of time.

5. Assemble a core team to keep everything on track

Your A-team needs to represent the key stakeholders – and key skills. Holding brainstorming sessions with bigger groups can help you to identify who you need on board.

Your core people need the time and enthusiasm to take on the project and they need to be clear about how they can help. What do they bring to the table? Money, experience, advocacy, authority? Whatever their role within the group, make sure they’re happy about what’s expected of them.

Your timeline and interim goals will come in handy here, as you can let them know when they’re likely to be heavily in demand – and when they can go and focus on other tasks, keeping up to date through minutes and other updates if necessary.

You need people who are happy to take on collective responsibility. Bringing in outsiders, such as Sofia’s curriculum review consultancy, can pay dividends here, lending an outsider’s perspective and expertise on how things are done elsewhere.

Your own dedicated consultant will be on hand throughout the process, to answer your questions, offer insight and advise on best practice.

6. Work out how to handle conflict

Conflict isn’t inevitable – but it’s likely. Left to fester, it will rot your review from the inside.

You’ve scoped out and agreed priorities and timelines but there’s always something you didn’t legislate for – and disagreements based on clashing values run deep.

Set aside time at each meeting to check in with your core team and create an environment where conflict can be aired and, if possible, ironed out before it grows.

You can’t solve everything though. Talking things through, rather than taking it all on your own shoulders, will bolster the spirit of collaboration and help to cement your team as a unified force.

You’ve already explained that compromise will be necessary – group working can facilitate this and still allow someone to feel heard.

7. Keep checking in

Review, review and review. As you work through the process, keep checking in. How are you performing against interim goals? Have dates or priorities shifted? Is everyone still on board and on message?

It’s good to celebrate too. When things go well, break out the biscuits (or whatever floats your boat).

Encountered problems? What can you do better next time? Crowdsource ideas from your core team to help them build on that feeling of group ownership.

Consulting for the best results

Sofia is an intuitive tool to use but we build consultancy into the package because no-one can pretend a wholesale curriculum review is a walk in the park.

With all your stakeholders to manage, the last thing you need is a headache with the tech. Our experts know Sofia’s capabilities inside out and they’ll work with you to draw out your main objectives – and show you how to achieve them.

Sofia was specifically designed to make life easier for you – every step of the way.

To find out more, request a demo.

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