Effective stakeholder engagement is at the heart of executing strategy well and most successful leaders have mastered this skill.
For some, this mastery is intuitive and for others it is consciously developed through a strategic and systematic approach to stakeholder engagement.
There are a number of different stakeholder engagement frameworks and our simple and holistic approach includes the following 4 steps:
- Who are my key stakeholders (and who are they not)?
- What are they currently thinking, saying, feeling or doing?
- What do I want them to be saying, feeling, thinking or doing?
- What strategies can I use to better engage them?
1. Who are my key stakeholders?
If you ask someone who their key stakeholders are; they will usually be able to mention a few names of people who immediately come to mind. Most of us can manage some stakeholders very well, some of the time, but the art and science is effectively engaging with all of them, even the difficult ones.
Having a view of all of your key stakeholders is an important starting point for effective stakeholder engagement. In some instances there is merit to being open and inclusive when considering stakeholders, other times it is important to target who you need to engage with. The most demanding and vocal stakeholders may not be the most important ones and so it’s important to be clear on what priority they are in the context of your broader objectives.
2. How engaged are they? What are they currently thinking, saying or doing?
The positive aspect of difficult stakeholders is that by the time you’ve classified them as ‘difficult’ you have at least understood where they stand. Stakeholders who don’t let you know their levels of engagement can be harder to identify and influence.
Stakeholders will give you clues about how interested, engaged, supportive, active, motivated, indifferent or hostile they are by their behaviours, or lack of them. Having insight into what they are thinking, saying or doing will give you important information to work with.
Key ways to establish their level of engagement is to observe their behaviours or ask them how they are feeling or what they are thinking. Once you know their level of ‘engagement’ you can start to consider how big the gap may be.
3. What do I want them to be thinking, feeling, saying or doing?
Stakeholder engagement focuses on the human element of change and getting people to adopt new behaviours and to think and feel differently.
If we want stakeholders to be involved or to complete a certain task a new way, we need to be explicit on what those behaviours are. If we want them to feel assured, empowered or confident, we need to know that it is the intent.
For example we may want a key member of our executive leadership team to:
Do: Promote a positive message about the program (at a certain time, place or way).
Feel: Confident in the capability of the team and assured that risks have been identified and managed.
4. What strategies can I use to better engage them?
Stakeholder engagement is often thought of as a single step from ‘not engaged’ to ‘engaged’ but usually the process is more gradual.
Stakeholders have key questions in their mind when you are asking them to engage. Questions may be: “What are you offering or asking of me; What is the benefit if I do or risk if I don’t; Why should I believe you; How will my personal experience be different as a result?”.
Stakeholders need to have a reason and a framework to do things differently and there are a number of ways to change behaviour:
- Engage in progressive dialogue
- Develop a communications strategy and formulate strong messaging using visual tools and story-telling techniques
- Communicate persuasively
There are many tools and techniques that can be used to facilitate progressive dialogue and engagement and they may be a combination of: visual aids; multi-media; one-on-one meetings; workshops; forums; social media; surveys; newsletters; web tools; reference groups; scenario based activities; hypotheticals and experiential learning sessions.
Effective stakeholder engagement will create alignment, provide clarity and enables teams to perform well.
Interactive and challenging activities that connect emotionally are the most powerful ways to engage. Levels of engagement are fluid and maintaining appropriate levels of engagement requires creativity and effort.
If you are not yet managing your key stakeholders strategically four simple steps are:
- Create a document to capture the key stakeholder groups, people within those groups.
- Develop a structured set of questions to gather the key information on what they are doing or how they are feeling, what they may be concerned about and what their expectations are.
- Analyse the information gained against what you want levels of engagement you require and what you want them to be saying, thinking, feeling or doing. Be as specific as possible.
- Develop a persuasive stakeholder engagement strategy that uses visual tools and story-telling capability to involve, interest, motivate, inspire and retain them.
This content is drawn from our 1-Day Stakeholder Engagement and Influencing Workshop. If you would like to register for a workshop visit our Events page or for a copy of our more detailed Stakeholder Engagement Guide email firstname.lastname@example.org.