A significant challenge that Lean Six Sigma project leaders face is managing key stakeholders. Stakeholders fall into two categories: stakeholders that influence our work and stakeholders that are impacted by our work.

The first set of stakeholders is often made up of key leaders in an organization, key customers, or key constituents. These stakeholders will help to shape our change management processes, our projects, and our success. Their key concern is often with the outcome, “How will this contribute to our success?”

The second set of stakeholders feels the impact of change management. They face the challenges of a new project in the real world. They will be impacted by the new process or might even need to manage it. For these stakeholders, their key concern is how these projects will impact their workloads.

The #1 Communication Killer

Regardless of the type of stakeholder, I see the same issue over and over again. We only create outbound messages to them – we’re providing status updates, email blasts, newsletters, reports, or videos. As Lean Six Sigma project leaders, we’re constantly communicating to stakeholders on the status, where we’re headed, or where we’ve been.

What’s missing?

In this scenario, we have failed to create two-way communication. Failure to listen is the #1 communication killer. And it’s so easy to do without realizing it.

Two-way communication is creating space for your stakeholders to communicate their thoughts to you. When you’re not listening, you’re not allowing your stakeholders to provide feedback, comments, or recommendations. If we stop listening to our stakeholders, our projects will struggle.

The Solution is Active Listening

The good news is that the solution is simple. Just ask your stakeholders for their opinions. They’ll likely be more than happy to offer them. For example, at the end of a status report, you can ask, “What are your thoughts? How do you think we could improve what we’re doing?”

Your stakeholders are your stakeholders for a reason, after all. They have valuable insight, working knowledge, and extensive experience that can help inform the success of your Lean Six Sigma projects. And the two types of stakeholders will take different approaches. Adding new viewpoints can help point out dark spots in your project, illuminate paths, and create new opportunities. Some of the most valuable ideas I’ve seen our clients generate have come right from their key stakeholders.

Open communication with your stakeholders will create success in the long run. When you become a better listener, you’re going to see better outcomes for your projects, better results, and happier stakeholders.