If you’re embarking on a new project, taking on a new role or responsibility, then you may be tasked with engaging new stakeholders. When new stakeholders are involved, you may be unsure of how to first engage with them. This is especially true if communication channels and procedures have not yet been established. Since you may not yet have a working relationship with the new stakeholders, this can also make it difficult to know how best to speak with them, what tone, communication style and response times may usually be expected. It can also not yet be exactly clear what specific information these stakeholders are interested in.
If any of these are the case, then fear not. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the ways to best approach engaging with new stakeholders.
When engaging new stakeholders, identifying which specific individuals or organisations need to be engaged should be first on your agenda. You may have a general idea, but we would suggest doing some background research to understand the role of each person in the stakeholder group. This is so that you have a better understanding of how your stakeholder group operates, giving an early indication of how to engage where, when and how.
Once stakeholders have been initially identified, you can start to build your stakeholder map. The stakeholder map should explain each stakeholder's relevance to the project, including their influence and importance. The purpose of the stakeholder map initially is to be as explorative as possible, considering every possible stakeholder and every notable factor at play. It’s then a case of prioritising each stakeholder afterwards, so that the ‘key’ stakeholders can be identified and managed accordingly.
Now it’s time to consider the details around how each stakeholder will be communicated with. The stakeholder communication plan is a very extensive document in of itself, and will be one that is constantly evolving and being referred back to. This step will most likely just be the start of the communication plan, a first draft of many to come.
When writing up the communication plan, refer to your stakeholder map to deduce what information your stakeholders will be interested in. Try to come up with KPIs and specific topic areas that will be updated with each recurring message. You should also look to decide the frequency of updates, along with the communication channel and a way of receiving feedback.
Typically, stakeholders will favour communication channels that they’re already comfortable with, so look for one they’re already using. It’s also courteous in your first message, to offer a choice of other communication channels, in case one is preferred by the stakeholder.
The stakeholder communication plan should also highlight which individual(s) are the point of contact, along with the contact information for them and a checklist of the information they need to receive.
Now that you have a comprehensive communication plan in place, it’s time to make the initial contact with your stakeholders. Upon the first contact, you should introduce yourself and explain why you're getting in contact with them, as they may not be fully aware of the situation and why you’re reaching out. This initial contact is also a chance to run the communication plan past each stakeholder, with them being offered the option to amend it if there is anything they would like to be changed.
Remember that the initial contact will likely be the start of your working relationships with the stakeholders in question so try and leave a good first impression. You can also figure out what communication style seems to be most appropriate based on their response, and adopting this into all future correspondence.
Once the initial contact with stakeholders has been made, feedback should have been received as to how they would like to be communicated with. Now, we would suggest looking to formalise the stakeholder engagement process further. An article from Deloitte suggests that a solid stakeholder engagement strategy should formalise the scope, decision making and governance process. This ensures all relevant stakeholder perspectives are accounted for, maximising the value that can be generated. It may not be possible to achieve this fully from the outset, so consider this as a goal that the stakeholder relationship should strive to achieve over time.
Within a formalised procedure, we would suggest schedule recurring updates and meetings which reflect the progress of the project at hand. This may not necessarily be as ‘set in stone’ as other aspects, as the availability of individuals along with the required frequency may vary as time goes on. You should however aim to have some kind of schedule in place, so that stakeholders can prepare and work diaries around meetings and updates due to take place.
As would have been detailed in the communication plan, your stakeholders will have a way to provide feedback on the information they’re receiving. To make things easier for your stakeholders, and to ensure that all the necessary information is gathered, you may opt to provide predefined feedback devices, usually in the style of a form, spreadsheet or a questionnaire. Remember, this is a 2-way conversation, so you may wish to consider methods for further discussions between yourselves and stakeholders around the feedback provided.
Another consideration will be whether to make the stakeholders feedback available to other stakeholders. Making it freely available promotes a more open discussion, however at the risk that stakeholders may be less honest knowing that information is not private. Keeping the data private until insights are extracted and published in a strategic report minimises this risk, but at the expense of open discussions.
Stakeholders will have different opinions on matters, and where different opinions are held on the same matter, there must be a way of resolving a potential conflict. We do this by first Identifying where concerns and interests of stakeholders are likely to lie. This is so that any potential conflict can be flagged early on, and steps can be taken to avoid it. Next, we establish a process to deal with conflicts where they may arise. This can take an informal structure, for example, a mediated discussion with a compromise in mind. Alternatively, it can take a formal structure, for instance having stakeholders assigned ‘votes’ which they can use as they please on different matters. Whatever the case, make everyone fully aware of the process in place, so that upon a conflict occurring, they are prepared for how it will be resolved.
As your stakeholder relationships build, and more feedback is taken onboard, their voices will begin to impact your organisations/projects strategy. To keep your stakeholders engaged, it's useful to make them aware that their opinions are valued, by demonstrating the impact it has had on strategy. This is also a useful process to formalise internally, ensuring that upper management are taking on stakeholder feedback and are aware of the benefits being realised through stakeholder engagement.
We would suggest making a stakeholder report, published either annually or quarterly, that describes the impact their voices are having. You may also wish to include some information around internal procedures; how feedback is turned into actions or perhaps excerpts from stakeholder feedback that has turned into positive results. This report is all about celebrating your stakeholders engagement, and thanking them for their cooperation. This report will become an integral part of your strategy, and will encourage collaboration between stakeholders in the future.
In this article, we’ve looked at 8 steps to engage new stakeholders. Stakeholder management can be difficult, and here at Intuitix, we want to do all we can to make this process easier for yourself. That’s why we’ll soon be publishing our ultimate guide to managing multiple stakeholders, that contains all the information you need to manage your stakeholders effectively.