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What Do You Do When a Stakeholder Is Not Honest?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 10/30/2011

Are you suffering from dealing with dishonest stakeholders whether they are clients, vendors or team members? If so, you need to learn where the dishonesty is coming from and stop it in its path. Some of the reasons people lie may surprise you.

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    To Tell the Truth

    I Promise to Tell the Truth There are a number of reasons why stakeholders may not be so truthful. To start off, for those new to project management, let’s remember stakeholders can be a team member, management, vendors or suppliers and clients—or anyone involved in the project at hand that has a “stake" in the project.

    As a project manager, your first thought upon discovering the lie may be to terminate your relationship with the stakeholder, if possible. However, that may not be the right thing to do. To treat these situations correctly, you must first learn where the untruth is coming from and why.

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    Types of Dishonesty—It’s Not Always Bad

    Some Lies Have to Be Told Before you go off the deep end, investigate the source of the stakeholder untruth. Let’s look at some examples:

    Simple Mistakes – Let’s say a vendor made a mistake in ordering the correct part necessary to proceed to the next phase of your project and instead of revealing the mistake, simply delivers the wrong part. His hopes are that while you won’t be happy, you will request the right part, which makes the lie (at least to the vendor) a necessary must. He knows if he admits he’s made a flat out mistake, you won’t use him again in the future and he may not be able to afford to lose you as a client. While the vendor did indeed make a mistake, the truth may have hurt his business and they say asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission. Build strong alliances with your stakeholders to avoid this in the future.

    Fear of Reprisals – What if during a phase of the project, a team member following the risk management plan to the letter misses a pre-identified risk and instead of contacting his team leader or you as the project manager, much like a child who doesn’t want a mother’s touch on a boo-boo, he hopes the risk will work itself out or go away. He’s only doing this because he fears you as a boss and knows if he is caught not doing his job, his very job could be at risk. If this happens to you, you need to sit down with the team member and remind them everyone is guilty of oversights and make an action plan on how to keep risks in check.

    Process Failures – Many project management methodologies contain planned and forethought processes in the project planning phase. As a manager, you could find a team hiccup when one process is skipped. Before you throw in the towel and yell at the team, analyze why the process was skipped. Was everyone informed about the process? How good was the communication plan explaining the process? Were teams given the chance to participate in what if scenario discussions? Find out first before you lay blame.

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    When Lies are Blatantly Clear

    These Lies Need to be Dealt With On the other hand, as much as you try to investigate, some stakeholders will simply be dishonest to protect their interests or to keep the project running. Here are some examples you may run into:

    No Money – Some stakeholders (especially clients and vendors or suppliers) may agree to the budget on paper and sign off on the project when, in fact, they know their cash supply is short and there is no way they can either fund the project or buy the needed supplies for the project to flow smoothly. You don’t want to deal with these people, and as much as vendors and clients investigate you, so should you investigate them when it comes to choosing them to be part of the team. Don’t go just by their word. Ask to see financials or documentation on projects recently funded or completed. Your very best bet is to request a letter of good standing from their banking institution which will offer the number of bounced checks, if any, etc.

    Change Violators – The entire PMO office has changed and been revamped and everyone on the team must change to adapt to the new PMO. There will be dissenters, however, and some of them can make change control a nightmare for you. Here, their dishonesty may come from spreading lies and untruths about the new PMO office and leaving many in fear. Those who do this don’t so much fear change; they simply don’t want to change and there’s a difference. Nip these situations in the bud by confronting the rumor mill and having a face-to-face with the guilty party. If you have to remove this wart from the team, do so.

    Dishonest Is the Best Policy – In the business world, unfortunately, this happens more often than not. When you first choose team members, you most likely talked about your open door policy and how when things go wrong, you need to know immediately. Yet, there are those who disregard this important information and instead will be dishonest when things do go wrong. They do not come to you when the error is realized and may even blame others. Unfortunately, these folks can be hard to root out at first, but they are repeat offenders. When you find them, get rid of them—you, your staff and your project don’t need this type of destructive behavior.

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    How Honest Are Your Stakeholders?

    Here at Bright Hub, our goal is to find ways to help project managers and teams find the best solutions to every problem they come across. Have you had to deal with stakeholders holding back the truth? If so, how did you deal with it and were they blatant lies or untruths told in fear?

    Help your peers by dropping a comment below and share your story and your tips and solutions!