Projects and initiatives thrive when stakeholders are engaged. However, failing to communicate with the right people and at the right time can threaten the success of projects.
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.
Defining your purpose
Before you can effectively engage your stakeholders, you must know who you are and 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.
Understanding stakeholder motivations
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
Including: Business partners, project managers.
These people are key players you must work collaboratively with to make decisions. They have a direct professional and financial interest in the project’s success.
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
Including: Majority shareholders, investors, those in a position of power.
These parties have invested in or stand to financially gain from the company. You need to keep these people happy and win their support. They may have the power to elect company directors and make changes if they don’t think the company is being run properly.
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
Including: Public, customers, users, suppliers, employees.
These stakeholders have no direct influence on decision-making, but their opinions may affect the project and so they must be consulted with and kept informed.
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
Including: Environmental bodies, local organisations, minority groups.
These are the stakeholders who require the least communication, but if ignored completely can cause the most problems. Keep them informed and monitor their inputs carefully.
Motivations: Block projects that threaten their specific interests or affect their community.
Beware of: Sudden changes in interest, political motivations, provoking small groups.
Targeting your approach
To target your approach, you need to consider which stakeholder groups will have the biggest impact on this 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 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.
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 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 under way. 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.
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.
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