Projects and initiatives prosper when stakeholders are engaged. But failing to communicate with the right people – and at the right time – can threaten the success of projects from the get-go. Surprisingly, the process is either disregarded or not given the appropriate amount of time that it truly requires, despite stakeholder engagement being a necessary part of successfully delivering a project.
This article will run through the best ways to engage your stakeholders by defining your purpose, understanding their motivations, and monitoring changes in stakeholder interest.
Before you can effectively engage your stakeholders, you must know what you want to achieve. External people must understand the purpose of your organisation before you can convince them to engage with you. Consider the following:
• What are your core values?
• Why does your organisation exist?
• What are your long-term goals?
Understanding your own purpose will help you identify which stakeholders you should target to reach your current goal, and to present a consistent brand tone across all communications.
To understand your stakeholder’s motivations, you must first know who they are. It can be helpful to divide stakeholders into four groups:
1. HIGH INTEREST, HIGH INFLUENCE
Who they are: Business partners, project managers. They are the key players you must work collaboratively with to make decisions due to their professional and financial interest in the project’s success.
Their motivations: Financial gain, professional advancement, company growth, loyalty to founding values.
Beware of: Personal biases, personal agendas, favouritism among employees, resistance to change.
2. HIGH INFLUENCE, LOW INTEREST
Who they are: Majority shareholders, investors, those in a position of power. These parties have invested in or stand to financially gain from the company, so you need to keep them happy and win their support. They may also have the power to elect company directors and make changes if they don’t think the company is being run properly, so it’s essential that you keep them on your side.
Their motivations: Financial return, growth, good publicity.
Beware of: Prioritising financial gain over the interests of other stakeholders, such as employees.
3. HIGH INTEREST, LOW INFLUENCE
Who they are: The public, customers, users, suppliers, employees. While these stakeholders have no direct influence on decision-making, their opinions may affect the project and so they must be consulted with and kept informed.
Their motivations: Access to improved products and services, financial loss or gain, professional advancement.
Beware of: Personal agendas, changeable levels of interest, office politics, resistance to change.
4. LOW INTEREST, LOW INFLUENCE
Who they are: Environmental bodies, local organisations, minority groups. These are the stakeholders who require the least communication, but if ignored completely can cause the most problems so do so at your peril. Keep them informed and monitor their input carefully.
Their motivations: Blocking projects that threaten their specific interests or affect their community.
Beware of: Sudden changes in interest, political motivations, provocation of small groups.
To target your approach, you need to consider which stakeholder groups will have the biggest impact on the project or initiative.
An effective strategy should be tailored towards the stakeholders whose engagement will be the most beneficial.
Assess the motivations of your stakeholder groups and use this information to determine which groups should be prioritised and which will require minimal attention.
Monitoring stakeholder interests
Expect that your targeted stakeholders and their priorities may change as your project progresses.
• Are you seeing valuable returns from your targeted engagement efforts?
• Do your primary targets need to be adjusted?
Your low-interest stakeholders may develop higher levels of interest at certain times during the project. For example, local residents who were initially indifferent to your proposal to build a factory in their area may become irritated when you threaten their peace and quiet with the announcement of your 24-hour operating schedule.
As we mentioned above, stakeholders who feel ignored have the potential to cause the most problems. If you fail to appease local residents, their opposition could condemn your entire project. You could also receive negative backlash from unhappy customers, or environmental concerns could halt your progress.
Monitor your stakeholder interests closely and adapt your engagement strategy to make sure you’re keeping the right people happy.
To successfully convey the key messages, it is important you consider your communication methods.
Communication with stakeholders should be clear and leave no room for misunderstanding. To communicate effectively, you must first understand the community of your targeted groups and work on establishing a strong relationship between those groups and your company or project managers. Ensure information is easily accessible to all stakeholders by making it available in a variety of formats, including website pages, press releases, social media posts, and focus group meetings.
Make sure the correct information is relayed to the right people at the right time. Publishing your proposal once your project is underway may disgruntle interested parties, or worse—force you to postpone your next steps until further consultations are held.
The volume of communication that a stakeholder group requires depends on its level of interest and investment.
Influential stakeholders, such as primary shareholders, require in-depth information and consultation to secure initial approval, but only need to be kept informed once the project is underway. You risk boring these stakeholders if you deliver too many regular updates, and this will discourage them from future engagement.
High-interest stakeholders, such as employees, may benefit from continuous communication regarding issues that directly affect them. For example, proposals to cut staff pay or training that will be required following the introduction of new technologies.
It’s important to remember that an effective stakeholder engagement strategy requires an initial assessment of stakeholder interests and motivations, followed by carefully monitoring any changes—and making appropriate adjustments as projects progress.
In communicating with your stakeholders, you’ll have to choose the right means of making your message clear. While this may seem like the business has to invest in several different methods and technologies, which could be expensive, time-consuming and inefficient, that’s not necessarily the case.
Thankfully, however, there are plenty of methods and technologies that you can use for your internal and external stakeholder engagement, and for a relatively small cost too. There is certain software that is designed specifically for such a process, allowing you to do the following:
• Use workspaces to accrue information, share ideas and contribute with others on the project itself.
• The creation of teams who can then be assigned permissions to tailor communications and provide access to each stakeholder.
• Secure file sharing with full audit trails, documents locking and email notification.
• Team collaboration through tools that allow for co-authored documents, custom online databases, RSS feeds, discussion forums and more.
• Task and project management that give you the chance to evaluate stakeholder contributions.
• Consultation through questionnaires, polls and comment forms.
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