Engagement with stakeholders is crucial to the success of any organisation. A clear vision (based around a robust strategy or marketing plan) can only come from stakeholder engagement, as it ensures the voices of key internal and external individuals influence and strengthens the actions that the organisation takes.
Stakeholder engagement is also the basis of good corporate governance, allowing organisations to reflect on operations and perform checks and balances when required. For example, if communication is established with internal stakeholders, the organisation can identify any emergent changes that might be taking place within the company, and understand why this is happening. Together, engagement with stakeholders can help to implement actions that react to these changes, such as making them part of the company-wide strategy.
Although it’s easy to appreciate the value of stakeholder engagement, successfully managing the process and getting the most out of stakeholders can be a difficult task. It involves a variety of short and long-term actions that dramatically effect the quality of information and input an organisation can receive from stakeholders. In this article, we will be exploring just a few of the actions you must take place when addressing stakeholder engagement and the positive impact they have.
Essential Short-Term Actions
Whilst this is not an extensive list, these are just some of the essential short-term actions you must take when thinking about stakeholder engagement. Short-term in this case means that they aren’t ongoing actions during a project; they come at the start ahead of any communication with stakeholders. This being said, they can make or break the outcome, so shouldn’t be seen as lesser to more longer-term actions.
1 – Anticipating Hazards
Before launching yourself into communications with stakeholders, the best place to start is using foresight to anticipate hazards. As stakeholders are important influential resources, they should be treated as sources of potential risk. Ask yourself what information you require from stakeholders, and how you can restrict their actions to avoid any unnecessary changes to the way things are done within the organisation. For example, if you address a particular change, will this impact any other operation or ongoing project?
2 – Selecting Stakeholders
It might sound obvious, but there isn’t just the one type of stakeholders; in fact, the possible sets or groupings of stakeholders is arguably limitless. So be aware that the project you wish to address with stakeholders might only be relevant to one set. For example, if you’re talking about direct changes to a product, is that something external stakeholders (i.e. current clients or customers) should be a part of? Or, if it’s a change in operations, then which internal stakeholders (such as employees or investors who know the strengths and weaknesses of the way things are done) should be included in discussions?
Selecting the wrong stakeholders can have varying degrees of effective, from leading you down a hazardous path of inaccurate actions, due to misunderstanding, or even apathy from stakeholders as a result of feeling distanced from the issues brought to their attention. Think to yourself what core group of stakeholders you require based on the objectives before you do anything else.
Exploring Long-Term Actions
Long-term actions are those which are ongoing during the stakeholder engagement process, allowing you to continue to gain value from communication and develop stronger results. Whilst these should be thought about during the planning process, they’re generally actioned when engagement begins.
1 – Present Roles and Responsibilities
Identifying the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders is an important part of the engagement process and is something that should be ongoing through regular reinforcement. You should communicate with stakeholders why they are a part of the discussion and project, and inform them of what is expected so that they can take the right approach and give feedback as the project progresses. For example, if they’re manage the marketing department, they would be expected to share the views of their team and represent wider attitudes to potential changes.
It also means that from the start, they have a greater understanding of why they are involved and know that they have certain responsibilities to meet. This creates a sense of ownership for the project and allows each individual stakeholder to value shared ideas and appreciate common goals.
2 – Develop Relationships
Taking the time to understand and regularly stay up-to-date with stakeholders helps you to develop a positive relationship with them. In turn, this will increase trust and making the process of sharing information and knowledge easier. It will also help any project leaders understand viewpoints and motivation easier.
As with anyone, keeping a positive relationship is an ongoing task, and whilst it might seem an investment of resources, its long-term benefits are more than worth it.
3 – Identify Internal Alignments
When consulting with stakeholders, you must discover the point of consensus or shared motivation that adds them to arriving at a positive decision and an investment in a meaningful outcome. This comes about from a wider understanding of how the group of stakeholders function together, and is a result of identifying underlying similarities between the needs of the collective.
Realising alignments is something you should be proactive in achieving through continuous stakeholder engagement and by bringing together a bigger picture. But be aware that as actions within an organisation change, so can the point of consensus or shared motivation.