In this post, we explore the final four principles of stakeholder engagement:
5) Identify the right manner with to engage
Once you have done the work of understanding (initially) your stakeholders’ concerns, then it’s time to choose the right channels and formats for communicating with them. Is it a public convening such as a town hall meeting? Is it a smaller round table discussion? Is it an informal lunch? Is it a digital platform, such as Facebook? Or is it as simple as a personal phone call with the right questions in hand, and of course the backdrop of your overarching story? In other words, what modes of engagement will make them feel most at home, most understood, most appreciated? You want to pull in, not push out.
You’ll also want to think through “casting”. Who is best suited to deliver the message and engage the audience in each medium? The CEO? Someone from your team who has something in common with this group? A team approach? As always, the key question is “What is the best way for this audience to accurately understand our intentions and respond in a productive manner?”
Determining systematically what the right channels, mediums and approaches are for each group, is well worth the time and effort. Add to this a set of well-crafted key messages for each audience that radiate from the overarching story—and then determine specifically who and when these steps will take place… and you now have the basic ingredients of your stakeholder engagement plan.
6) Share new learning quickly and adapt
No matter how well planned and insightful you are, you will make mistakes. And you’ll learn new and unforeseen things about your stakeholders. This is a natural part of the process. Your core team must develop a structure and communication process that allows for frequent and accurate assimilation of new learnings and information. If a course correction in your stakeholder strategy is required, then it should be done swiftly and decisively.
For example, you may learn that a key stakeholder group’s primary agenda has recently evolved. Or that they have a new leader who has a different approach from his/her predecessor. You may learn that they have a preferred method of communication that you weren’t aware of, or that there’s a member of your team that they’ve taken a shine to. Adapting to this new information quickly is key.
7) Keep your eyes on the prize
Being adaptive is essential, but as a counter-balance, so too is remembering why you’re doing this in the first place. Regular re-affirmation of the vision, especially by the leader(s), is highly beneficial. Especially as your team navigates the ins and outs of achieving understanding and buy-in wherever possible, they’ll need to be reminded, from the inside out, what the purpose of all this is.
There is much recent research, and a great deal of common sense, indicating that human beings are essentially purpose-drive creatures. When we lose a sense of purpose, we start to lose our way. This is especially true in complex stakeholder situations, where many voices and perspectives need to be heard.
8 ) Return to Step 3 and repeat
As with anything that involves disparate groups of people, the journey is never a straight line. It will feel in many ways more cyclical in nature. As you adapt to new learnings while staying committed to the overall vision, you may want to return, formally or informally, to step 3, your map of stakeholders. Revising and updating this on a regular basis, and once again asking key questions about their underlying concerns and aspirations, is crucial.
Of course, there is much more nuance and complexity than the simplistic framework I’ve laid out in these posts. But I’m a great believer in frameworks and practical structures for leaders. So this is just a start, a provocation of sorts to get you started on engaging your stakeholders in a more meaningful way.