Stakeholder Engagement—Pt. 2

Stakeholder Engagement—Pt. 2:

What are the key ingredients of successful stakeholder engagement? Let’s get right to it. While there’s no perfect formula, and each situation is unique, there are a series of principles that seem to apply across the board. These include:

1)   Begin with an intrinsically inspiring vision

2)   Craft a powerful story around it

3)   Identify (map) the primary stakeholder groups

4)   Empathize with their concerns

5)   Identify the right manner with which to engage

6)   Share new learning quickly and adapt

7)   Keep your eyes on the prize

8)   Return to Step 3 and repeat


1) Begin with an intrinsically inspiring vision

As I mentioned in the last post, everything begins with an intrinsic vision. The leader or leadership group must have a very clear and inherent sense of what the vision is and why it’s important. This isn’t achieved through polling or surveys, it’s arrived at through reflection and self-revelation. A leader without a vision—is an empty title.


2) Craft a powerful story around it

Humans have always used, and will always use, storytelling as a way of making sense of our world. No matter how technologies are evolving, this is a constant. And so the story we put around our vision—is paramount. Is it a story of triumph over adversity? Or is it about an idea whose time has come? Is it about doing something courageous on behalf of our publics? A story must be more than just relevant, it should carry emotion. And it should use the right tone for our intended audiences. Having a good “ear” for one’s constituents, is priceless.


3) Identify (map) the primary stakeholder groups

With the vision and basic narrative in hand, which I strongly recommend are created prior to stakeholder engagement, you can now start to systematically map out who the most influential and important stakeholder groups are, and how they connect to each other in a web of influence. You may want to separate the groups into those that have direct authority, vs. those who have influence on those with direct authority.

A solid half-to-full-day session, or multiple sessions, may be required to think this through carefully. But this connects directly to the fourth principle…


4) Empathize with their concerns

Identifying and mapping stakeholders is one thing, but that alone can be a clinical exercise with limited value. The power of this exercise is really in understanding what their major concerns and aspirations are, and factoring that into the stakeholder engagement strategy. What keeps them up at night? What are their ambitions as it relates to this project? Why would they care or not care about it? What aspects of our project would they be most interested in? And why? Always the why question.

In most situations, the leadership team and its most trusted advisors – already know, on some level of their being, not only who the key stakeholder groups are, but what makes them tick on a basic level. But rarely do leadership teams take the time to uncover this information and reflect upon it insightfully. This is an exercise in empathy and understanding, and should precede any formal communications. Before an email is sent or a meeting is convened with any so-called stakeholders, one would be wise to go through this thought process. Otherwise, your stakeholders will immediately sniff the absence of an authentic interest in their concerns, and either treat this as a cynical exercise, or even as an opportunity to undermine your endeavor. And nobody wants that!

In the next post, we’ll explore the remaining four principles to complete the initial picture.