Last month I wrote about communication and its importance in basically every aspect of life. It’s integral to successful project management and, used effectively, makes sure your stakeholders know what’s going on, and helps reduce public backlash. But what about engagement? Is there a difference between communication and engagement? In the stakeholder engagement world, the words ‘communication’ and ‘engagement’ are commonly interchanged; but they probably shouldn’t be.
I know, I know, we’ve already gone over this in the last blog post, but let’s break it down a little more. When I say the word communication, usually it’s associated with a two-way conversation in some manner (or by yourself if you’re talented, like myself!). But in a corporate context, is communication a conversation? Or is it more of a marketing tool? Usually, corporate communication is a way for companies to control the narrative of information to key stakeholders. Send out updates, newsletters, hire a sky banner, you know, the usual. But it’s pretty one-sided and not like a conversation at all.
A lot of companies are sending out mass communications to their stakeholders telling them what’s happening on their project and recording their comments in an excellent database (Did someone say, Consultation Manager?). But is that actually engaging? Another way to think of it is consulting or conversing. It might sound like a big task to potentially have constructive conversations, or consult with thousands of people, but you can break it down into easier bite-sized chunks.
1. Selecting stakeholders with the highest influence, or interest in your project
Who are the key people you need to engage with to get the most bang for your buck?
2. Selecting your different engagement approaches
What is the best way to get your high influence stakeholders on board? Partnering with them? Making them feel like they have a stake in the Project? Simply using communication methods to keep them informed?
This isn’t only useful at the beginning of a project but can be invaluable during the entire project.
Say you’ve had Captain Solo call you every week complaining the route he takes every day is impacted by your project’s construction. A sign that’s up is impeding his vision to steer his ship out, and he can’t possibly get any shipments in. You’ve tried getting the construction team to fix it multiple times, but the problem still occurs, and Captain Solo continues to ring angrily every week. Finally, one day you’re out on site and decide to pop in and to see what he’s talking about. He shows you the sign, and from his perspective, he’s got a point. It’s impeding his vision and blocking access and can be easily changed. But with one phone call to tell your team to change the sign appropriately, and his phone calls suddenly stop. You’ve helped turn an irate serial complainer, to a potential supporter of the project.
Sometimes sitting down with a stakeholder or a group of stakeholders can really give you insight into why they’re against, or excited for your project. Having a cup of tea with a problematic stakeholder and really trying to see their point of view instead of just adding their comments to your database can potentially turn them for your project instead of against it.
Stakeholder engagement isn’t a straight cut line, but more of an ongoing cycle during the entire lifespan of the Project.
Plan your communication and engagement before it happens.
Communicate the key points of your project with your stakeholders.
Engage with your key stakeholders to make sure your approach is on track.
If you’re actively engaging with your stakeholders, you’ll be building better relationships with the entire community, and potentially even make your job easier in the long run.
In the end, it comes down to what your Project needs during each phase. Do you need to sit down and have a chat with your stakeholders about what their needs are and take on board what they’re saying? Or is it enough to keep them updated and informed? Either way, don’t forget to keep it all recorded to make sure you’re able to better manage the health of your relationships with your stakeholders!
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