Making a Case for Capability Building? Here’s a Proven 4-Step Guide to Starting Stakeholder Conversations

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As someone who sees the potential in people development, you know that skill building is the most efficient way for organizations to drive business transformation.

In fact, companies investing in building their employees’ 
capabilities see:

However, getting stakeholders to realize these benefits and invest in people development can be challenging — albeit not impossible, not unless you:

This brief guide aims to give you the blueprint for starting productive conversations around investing in capability building. Before we 
dive in:

Quick overview of action steps to take

✅ Reflect on your stakeholder landscape to create a stakeholder chart that lays out each stakeholder’s role and influence.

✅ Shortlist stakeholders to talk to based on your relationship with them, their potential interest and influence in the initiative, and their past involvement in similar programs.

✅ Take the time to understand organizational goals and the role that your shortlisted stakeholders play in achieving those goals. Then tie your conversations to these objectives to showcase the value of your proposal.

At the end of this guide, we’ve also included an asset folder that gives you a detailed checklist of the steps to take, a stakeholder mapping chart, and a questionnaire to identify who you should be talking to.

Once you’ve read this guide, these assets will help you put the steps shared into action.

Step 1: Map stakeholders to identify who you should be talking to

You need to be talking to 2-3 executives who have:

For example, a Chief Commercial Officer aiming to drive business growth will likely be open to developing skills that’d help account teams increase the number and size of new deals.

To identify stakeholders who will benefit the most from building their people’s skills and shifting employee mindsets: 

Begin with reflecting on your stakeholder landscape.

Write down the names of the people involved in making these decisions alongside their role, impact, and potential interest in driving advocacy for such an initiative.

Add all the information in this table to efficiently visualize your stakeholder landscape:

Shortlist stakeholders with the most to gain.

The aim here is to find executives who will likely be receptive to the idea of investing in people development. At the very least, they can give you feedback on building your business case. 

So once you’re done with a full stakeholder review, use this framework to identify folks you should be speaking with first:

✨ What’s the next logical conversation and who do I have it with?

No immediate names coming to your mind? Look for a handful of these attributes in the potential stakeholder(s):

Does the stakeholder have something at stake? Is there an upside or risk involved?

Finding the answers to these questions will help you pinpoint stakeholder motivations, letting you frame your conversations to appeal to their motives

Have they previously welcomed suggestions for change? Have they supported similar training and development initiatives in the past

An executive who has been receptive to suggestions and initiatives for change in the past — from you or your colleagues — will be open to listening to what you have to say.

The same holds true for a stakeholder who you know enjoyed facilitating people-related initiatives in the past.

Are you on good professional terms or is your relationship more on a personal level? How often do you meet this stakeholder and what do your conversations look like? 

Having clarity on the dynamics of your typical interactions with the stakeholder and the frequency of your communication with help you choose the best time and setting to initiate the conversation.

In short, the stakeholders you need to be talking to first will reflect a few or all of these attributes:

Step 2: Establish a healthy context for the conversation to show the value of your suggestion

After having identified the appropriate stakeholders, the next step is to establish a healthy, relevant context for the conversation.

Using a concise framing of the topic can quickly yield a fruitful discussion during a scheduled meeting or an impromptu interaction.

You can do this by anchoring the conversation around the growth objectives your organization aims to achieve. This will establish relevance for your colleagues — showing how your suggestion for people development will contribute to helping the organization achieve its overarching goals.

Now this may seem like a lot of work, but it’s relatively straightforward. Think about:

Step 3: Anchor the conversation around organizational objectives and stakeholder motives

Since you want people to value your suggestion, tie it to the issues they care about.

Your introspection on the organization’s goals and shortlisted stakeholders’ motives will help you with this.

Generally, you’ll note that the stakeholders you’re planning to talk to fall into either one of these buckets:

Of them, the CXO will be the one setting business objectives, and the business leader will be laying out the plan to achieve those objectives with the help of the talent leader.

Let’s say the CXO sets an ambitious growth objective to double the revenue from $1.5 billion to $3 billion in the next 3 years.

The business stakeholder who runs the solutions (product or service) that generates revenue will then take charge of devising strategies to double the revenue being generated.

Finally, the talent or people stakeholder — say the Head of Talent Development — will work with the business leader to understand what capabilities employees will need to develop to help the organization achieve its new revenue target.

Based on what the talent stakeholder learns, they’ll identify the skills to develop among the workforce. For example, if the plan is to use a specific selling strategy to grow revenue, the talent leader will identify and take the initiative to train the sales teams with the skills and mindset shifts necessary for successfully executing the strategy.

Your role then is to:

For example, if you’re a VP of Growth Strategy, speaking with a CXO stakeholder, you could say the following:

I’ve been thinking about our organization’s objective to double company revenue in the next three years. The primary enabler of increasing the number of net new accounts for each product group makes sense to me, and I have been reflecting on how to make it happen. What if we develop their skills and shift their mindset? This will boost their confidence and might just build the momentum we need to achieve our goals.

Or, if you’re having a conversation around dealing with change with a talent stakeholder in your position as a VP of Growth Strategy, you could say:

In short: lead with the objective, share your alignment with the strategy in place, and then summarize how the investment into people development will help achieve organizational goals.

Step 4: Continue driving conversations with open-ended, dialogue-encouraging questions

After you anchor the conversation around strategic objectives and share your initial thinking on the topic, pause to gauge your colleague’s reaction — giving them a chance a speak.

Then ask thoughtful questions to solicit input and perspective from your colleague.

Here are three questions that will shift the focus to building 
human capabilities:

✅ How can we leverage our current strengths to drive 
innovation and growth?

This question underscores the importance of self-awareness in an organization’s strategic development. It’s a call to action to capitalize on what the organization already does well, to fuel future successes by reflecting on existing assets, capabilities, and competencies. 

✅ What new mindsets, skills, and behaviors do we need to 
develop to be successful?

This inquiry prompts a forward-thinking approach, challenging stakeholders to further refine their thinking on the requirements for future success. It is also likely to generate debate and lead how these capabilities can be developed and embedded in the way the organization works. 

✅ In what ways can we foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement?

This question invites leaders to deliberate on strategies that encourage ongoing development and knowledge-sharing, which are critical for making progress on their strategic objectives.
The conversation that flows from these questions will provide perspectives and data points to inform your next steps to engage with stakeholders. Be sure to listen to the words people use and their non-verbal cues.

Even if your colleague’s initial response isn’t positive, don’t let it end the conversation. Continue asking open-ended questions to understand what the underlying hesitation is. Then and only then will you be able to address the actual concerns stakeholders have.

In summary:

By focusing on stakeholders with the most to gain, you can foster a collaborative environment where support for a capability-building initiative grows organically, increasing the odds of a successful implementation.

Just make sure to start off by taking stock of the stakeholder landscape and business objectives. This is key to identifying the right people to start your conversations with as well as framing your proposal around what matters the most to the stakeholder(s).

Here’s a full checklist along with other useful assets (no email required) for starting productive conversations with the right people.

Start capability building 

Have more questions? Email and we’ll a and get back to you with tailored advice or to schedule a conversation.

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The takeaway

Recognition goes a long way. Celebrate wins, no matter how small. This not only motivates the team but also reinforces a positive organizational culture.

In conclusion, while there’s no one-size-fits-all HR strategy for startups, a combination of clear vision, open communication, continuous learning, and an emphasis on well-being can set you on the path to success. Remember, in the fast-paced world of startups, it’s not just about having the right strategy—it’s about being adaptable, resilient, and always ready to evolve.

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