How to Manage Stakeholders Who Don’t Have Time to be Stakeholders

Have you ever known anyone who seems to work with a “hair on fire” approach? You know them – folks for whom everything is a crisis with waaay too much to do, focused on getting done only with the most critical deliverable that’s overdue, without any time, focus or energy for you and the topic you must discuss/review.

No matter how legitimate their “busyness” is … there are those who figure out how to be busy and still get stuff done, and others who are addicted to being busy for the sake of being busy.

These folks actually thrive operate on the premise that everything must be managed like it’s a crisis – thus, anything that’s important but not the issue of the moment is postponed. I once had a boss who scheduled a weekly 1:1 on Wednesdays at 2:00, but it never (seriously, never) occurred at 2 … but she refused to just move it to a more manageable time. Instead, she called me at 5 p.m. every Friday evening – and we connected for the next hour and a half. It was hard to tell who was more miserable and frustrated – me or my family! Needless to say, that situation didn’t last too long.

If you’re trying to find time with that Stakeholder who has no time to be one, see if these tips help:

  • Have a plan and plan ahead. Schedule a meeting as early in advance as possible, set a due date days before something is actually due, and build in as much contingency as you can. Remind. Follow-up. Repeat!
  • But don’t be married to your plan. Be flexible as much as you can so you can save your “cards” and push back only when you really have to. The key is standing firm and really meaning it (no, that deliverable is due on Friday and will impact 5 other things if it’s pushed back).
  • Follow the KISS concept (Keep It Super Simple). Never say what you need to in more than 3 slides (preferably 1). Always have an “ask” at the end. If you only get 10 minutes, make it a quality 10 minutes and don’t overwhelm with 15 pages of information and data.
  • Call it out as a risk (gently). Use a (courageous) straightforward approach and talk about the issue, being as specific as you can about the impact their lack of time is having on your project, deliverable or team. Offer alternate solutions if at all possible, like asking for a delegate or proxy.
  • Get creative. Breakfast meetings, ordering pizza and staying till 6 or 7 may be the only option to accomplish your goal. But be wise about it and don’t let it turn into an everyday occurrence (or a regularly occurring 5 p.m. Friday meeting!)

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @sbPResults.