We're rocketing through the strategy stages! If you're following our series, you'll now know what strategy is (and what it isn't), know how to evaluate context and identify opportunities, understand how to define strategic priorities, and be able to develop implementation and communication plans. So what's left? None of this will be worthwhile unless you have your people on board. So read on to find out our top tips for getting those stakeholders engaged.
Let's face it, 'stakeholder engagement' is an overused term which can - sometimes - hold little meaning. It is business jargon but, in this instance, the term can also be quite useful to group the activities of talking and listening to those people who are most closely connected to your organisation. And that's the definition in a nutshell. Your stakeholders are those with an interest in your organisation - be they staff, investors, or customers - and engagement is creating opportunities for them to feel involved in your decision making. And while it is a bit jargon-y, effective strategy can only be achieved if you've interacted with those who have an interest in your business.
Because of this crucial role, engaging your stakeholders can be a daunting part of the process. And it can take time. But, as usual, we're here to help! Here are our top tips for effective stakeholder engagement.
1. The who
Your first step in managing stakeholder engagement will be to determine who your stakeholders are. You'll need to list out "those groups who affect and/or could be affected by [your] organisation’s activities, products or services and associated performance" (see Deloitte's publication on Stakeholder Engagement for this definition). Spend time thinking about and discussing who these groups might be. Start with your staff, of course, but make sure you include delivery partners, investors, customers and clients, supply chain partners, members of your local community, local business networks, government agencies... The list can go on. Use your landscape mapping to inform this thinking, and vice versa. Be as comprehensive as you can at this starting point. Once you have your list, think about how you might group these stakeholders. The 'Stakeholder Pyramid' (our version below) is a useful way to do this - see step 2.
2. The how
By using the stakeholder pyramid, you can start to identify the types of approach needed for your different groups of people. For example, pull communications provide a great set of resources about your strategy and will make you think about different ways your stakeholders can engage with you. This can include vlogs, blogs, and case studies. You can build on these to create your push communications, which should share the same messages but be slightly more tailored. Examples include surveys, newsletters and targeted web content. Face to face conversations become useful by the time you get to the 'consultation' stakeholders, as they provide opportunities for people to interact and provide their own inputs. Think about focus groups, town hall meetings, and other ways to bring people together. Participation and partnerships are where you'll spend most of your time, and where your approach will require most tailoring. For the best results, think about the output to this step as an 'engagement strategy', which encapsulates your different approaches for the different audiences. Be creative and diverse!
3. Don't wait to start your communication - and don't stop!
For stakeholder engagement to be effective, it should go hand in hand with your strategy development. So don't wait to get started. You should be talking to all the different groups of people as soon as you begin the strategy process. To get people fired up to tell you their thoughts and ideas, you need to show that you're listening. This means being open and transparent right from the start. Make yourselves available and be open to the different views that you'll hear. And make sure this covers all levels of staff within the organisation, as well as other stakeholders. Talking to your senior team will only get you so far. Even if you've started on the right foot, it's easy to forget the importance of continuing to engage. Make sure you keep up your efforts throughout the strategy development process. Successful implementation often depends on how well you have listened to and understood the requirements, expectations, perceptions, and concerns of the people that are most important for your business.
4. Give something back
It's great making yourselves available and gathering loads of feedback but that in itself won't get you very far. People need to see that their time and energy in submitting their ideas means something to you. So you need to build in sufficient time to review the range of inputs you've collected. Put dedicated time aside to consider all the feedback. Then, note down how you've included it in the decision making. If it hasn't influenced your thinking, note down the reasons why. And then share all this with your stakeholders. People will understand that not every comment can be included. But they'll be more understanding if they can see that they haven't been ignored.
5. One message, multiple approaches
You might be asking how stakeholder engagement fits in with communicating your strategy. Of course, they are all part of the same thing. Your communication will start by engaging your stakeholders so they can influence the strategy, then move towards sharing your finalised strategy with your stakeholders. As with the different approaches that you've used for your engagement, employ similar tactics for your post-launch communications. Try not to over rely on push or pull communications and don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings. It takes more time, but the impact is far greater. And stakeholders who feel part of the process can work for you, becoming ambassadors further down the road. They might even get involved in implementation.
To sum up, stakeholder engagement is an overused term, but an essential part of the strategy development process. It’s not always easy and can sometimes be pretty hard listening to comments and ideas, particularly if there have been issues or problems. Remember, don’t lose faith! You're gathering the evidence and inputs you need to shape and support your priorities and decisions. And you'll have a much more successful strategy for it.
We'll be concluding this series with our top three do's and don'ts for strategy. Come back soon to read our final post. And revisit the earlier posts in this series here.
Lucidity Solutions Ltd and The Partnership Lab combine skills to create a service that supports all elements of strategy development and implementation, from understanding the operating context to working with stakeholders to implement your vision. Get in touch to find out more.