Saturday, September 04, 2010

Step Three: Identify the Hidden Consensus among Stakeholders

Then the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another
seven days, and they kept it another seven days with
— 2 Chronicles 30:23 (NKJV)

Breakthroughs are much more likely when you begin by
identifying some benefit that everyone strongly favors. As
a breakthrough servant, you need to rely more on the
hidden consensus among all stakeholders than does a
breakthrough leader so that powerful tides of favorable
opinion can substitute for your lack of formal power.
From your work in Step Two of the Breakthrough
Servant Blueprint, you will have gained a lot of
understanding about your organization’s leaders and
stakeholders. In some cases, nothing more will need to
be done because the hidden consensus isn’t hard to
determine. For instance, an organization that serves a
humanitarian purpose such as educating those who
cannot read will probably have a hidden consensus
related to either helping more people learn to read or
making the process easier for them. If a few such
hypotheses can be easily developed, you may be able to
test and to confirm your conclusion by simply talking to
a lot of people about what they think the organization
should be doing more of or differently than it does now.
With a strong enough consensus, you will only need to
find it.

You won’t also have to document it to convince others.
More typically, the hidden consensus is harder to
determine. In fact, some stakeholders may be so ignorant
of the circumstances and opportunities that they haven’t
even thought about many of the possibilities. As a result,
these stakeholders may report what they want for the
organization something that they prefer less strongly than
something that they haven’t considered. If you are pretty
sure that some of the more appealing possibilities are
hidden from many stakeholders, you will have to conduct
your search for the hidden consensus in such a way that
you also inform people about the possibilities, without
promising that they can cause those possibilities to

For a large organization, you could spend years looking for
the hidden consensus among stakeholders on your own. Or
you could find out and document the answers you need in
a short period of time by drawing on the organization’s
resources. Although you need to be prepared to do the
former and work on your own to gather at least some of
the answers, it will usually be possible and more desirable
to be involved in an official organizational activity that
brightly illuminates the hidden consensus.

How might you persuade the organization to look for the
hidden consensus among its stakeholders? Start by
examining what you’ve learned about the organization’s
leaders. Do they have a hidden consensus that you can
identify? If they do, that underlying agreement can be a
lever to test whether the leaders’ hidden consensus is
shared by the organization’s stakeholders.

Here’s how such testing might be encouraged and
authorized. Let’s imagine that the hidden consensus
among the organizational leaders is that a new
technology is needed that would enhance the experience
of employing the organization’s offerings. Let’s also
imagine that many stakeholders don’t know enough
about the potential of that new technology to assess
whether that change is a good idea. One thing we
can be sure of is that no new technology is going to be
developed inexpensively. In such cases, it’s usually not
hard to gain support for the idea of testing the appeal of
using the new technology before going to the time, effort,
and expense of developing it. In that way, risk is
reduced and costs typically are, too. Because the hidden
consensus is shared among all the leaders, you will
probably find that all you need to do is propose that
stakeholder testing of the idea be done to identify
issues that need to be addressed in order to get great
results at less cost than what is expected. Volunteer to
work on the project as a way to ensure that you will
obtain the information you most want to learn.

As this example demonstrates, acting on any hidden
consensus of the leadership group will mean deploying
resources. Because the leaders will be highly interested
in getting good results from something they all favor,
they will be more open than usual to checking out the
best way to go about making the changes. Build on that
interest to show how checking for the hidden stakeholder
consensus can be a great way to improve the likelihood of
success. If in the process you discover that stakeholders
don’t agree with the leaders’ hidden consensus, leaders
will probably be most interested in understanding that
point after carefully checking to be sure that the
answer is an accurate one.

Copyright 2010 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved

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