A well-developed stakeholder communications plan is essential for building positive stakeholder relationships. However, this leads to the question, what is an effective engagement strategy? The key is to find a balance and ensure the right tactics suit the appropriate stakeholders. If you get the process right, then your stakeholders will champion your project. They will help your project reach positive outcomes and people will be more accepting of your decisions. Fail to create effective stakeholder management and your project may end up costing your thousands, millions or even billions of dollars more. In this article, I’m going to outline several factors to help you maintain strong relationships with stakeholders.
1. Group your stakeholders
More often than not, stakeholders will fall into two groups. Those who:
- Have a vested interest in the project
- Are affected by the project outcomes
These two groups can be further split into those:
- Directly involved in the project
- Who have influence over decisions
- Who need to stay informed about the process and decisions
Grouping your stakeholders according to their level of decision-making will make it easier to develop a tailored approach to engaging each group.
2. Clearly, communicate your project scope
Tell your stakeholders the process you will use to communicate information to them right from the start. Also, clearly explain how you will engage with them in decisions. People are more willing to listen when you tell them their influence over the final outcome, the decision-making process, what is negotiable and what is not.
3. Gain your stakeholders trust right from the start
Stakeholder relationship management includes communicating with people early and often so they fully understand the benefits of your project. Having an understanding of a situation means people are more likely to support you when necessary. It also means even if stakeholders don’t agree with the final decision, they have the benefit of understanding the process, history and the trade-offs made. Therefore, they will be less likely to aggressively object at the final stage. Social Pinpoint’s article about taking the community along the journey outlines the different factors of why it’s important to engage right from the start.
4. Stay consistent with your messaging
Confusing your stakeholders is incredibly dangerous. Inconsistent messaging can lead to public outrage, loss in trust, and a negative reputation. Your stakeholders value consistent messaging and want to know they can rely on you for the most current and up-to-date information. If there is a hurdle to overcome, your stakeholder will be more willing to help overcome the problem rather than blame the issue for coming up. For more information, have a look at a recent we wrote an article about consistent messaging to your stakeholders.
5. Meet up with stakeholders who are resistant to change
Wouldn’t the world be a much nicer place if we all agreed on everything? Unfortunately, if it were true, we would lose creativity, innovation, and uniqueness. All projects will include people who love, hate or want to shape or want to mould the project idea. It’s our job to find a way to balance these differing views. One of the worst things that can happen is you’ve gone through your engagement process, made a final decision and then you receive angry phone calls and emails about the project outcomes. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to regularly meet with key stakeholders who are resistant to change. The meeting could be in person, by email or through a phone-call. Involving stakeholders in decisions and listening to concerns re-emphasises the benefits of the potential change.
In the instance where stakeholders are resistant to change, it’s important to discuss the project scope. Some things aren’t negotiable and it’s important to show stakeholders what influence they do have to shape the project. Social Pinpoint’s article “Four Ways to Help your Community Embrace Change,” is a helpful guide to managing stakeholder conflict and building positive stakeholder relationships.
6. Use data management systems to summarise key information
It all comes down to the power of reflection. If you have a meeting with a stakeholder then write a summary of the event. What was the meeting about? What were the key findings? Are there any actions? When is the next meeting? Use your data management system to its full potential. Here’s one of our recent CM articles about categories to consider when creating a profile, which outlines what information you might want to include in your summary notes.
7. Keep surprises to a minimum
Some of us love surprises but placing your stakeholders off-guard can result in a huge mistake and can cost you from building positive stakeholder relationships. Most stakeholders like to be given an early view of risks and issues. However, this doesn’t mean you need to present every issue as it occurs. Go into the meeting solutions-based rather than problem-focused. Create various options to resolve the issue and then ask stakeholders to add their input to create an informed decision about the next step.
Need a quick summary of the seven ways you can maintain positive stakeholder relationships? See below.
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If you enjoyed this article then I think you will also enjoy our article, Why consistent messaging to your stakeholders is important.