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11/3/19 • Five Ways To Successfully Engage Your Stakeholders

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As posted in the Gaston Gazette

We’ve seen it many times before: someone comes up with a great idea or a fabulous new product, but the idea somehow falls flat. What’s the reason? Often, the problem is rooted in communication, particularly with stakeholders; big problems can emerge with those parties and people holding a vested interest in the project if they don’t get a say.

So what can you do to avoid making those mistakes? And how can you engage your organization’s stakeholders more effectively so that your services, products or projects are a success? Here are a few ideas:  

  • Find out what groups are impacted. Last year, Estee Lauder released a new foundation line called Double Wear Nude Water Fresh Makeup SPF25. The new line included more than 30 different shades, but the bulk of them were geared toward women with white or pale skin and not to women of color. If the company had thought more carefully about the diversity of skin colors and, thus, the potential diversity of its customer base, it likely would have come up with a more inclusive product. The moral? Make sure you do your research and have a comprehensive and diverse list of all groups – both internal and external stakeholders – that are impacted by your project, product or campaign before taking a single step.
  • Gain consensus before acting. Having a comprehensive list of groups impacted by a project or a concern is a great start, but if you attempt to gain consensus from each of those groups before beginning, it could take years just to get brainstorming sessions off the ground. So how can you streamline this process? A better idea might be to have each group elect a representative who has the authority to speak for the group and to speak with you. That way you get a sense of what each group is looking for from a single source rather than multiple competing voices.
  • View soliciting feedback as a relationship process, not singular event. Sometimes people think that gathering feedback is simply asking people once what they want, and then making it happen. But soliciting feedback, particularly with a product or business idea, is best carried out as a repeated process, not a single occurrence. A lot of larger companies, such as Amazon and Gap, understand this; they give their customers regular opportunities to offer feedback in the form of surveys. You also can consider holding a series of forums or workshops to engage your stakeholders. What’s most important? Making sure that you are consulting the stakeholder groups on a regular basis because the needs of those groups are likely to change over time. The Association for Project Managers makes an excellent point: if you focus not just on getting their opinions and suggestions, but on building relationships with your stakeholders, your likelihood of success will be far greater.
  • Consider that feedback as information, not a requirement. Consulting people’s opinions is great, but if you never do anything with that information, you’ve wasted your efforts – and their time. But what if some of the information is contradictory? While it’s important to seriously consider feedback and not just to pay lip service to people’s contributions, it’s also important to remember that your business or organization should move forward in ways that honor your larger goals. Amy Wishnick at Charity Channel notes that this information should be viewed as “descriptive, not prescriptive.” In other words, stakeholder feedback can offer great insight, but you don’t have to incorporate every single suggestion. In fact, that’s often unwise: many times, if that occurs, the power and legitimacy of the project reduces. Be discriminating about your inclusion choices, and be prepared to defend those choices.
  • Don’t forget to report back. One of the biggest mistakes businesses and organizations can make with their stakeholders is to fail to report their findings. In many cases, this is built into the process, but there are times when that process can get delayed or redirected, and that can make stakeholders antsy. Be sure to give yourself a timeline for reporting back, whether you’ve completed your project or not, and be sure to adjust your final deadlines accordingly. That will give stakeholders confidence in your ability to finish – as well as give you accountability.

While it’s far simpler to plan a project on your own than under the watchful eye of stakeholders, the benefits of keeping stakeholders involved and engaged are huge. These steps certainly aren’t the only ones you need to follow, but they’ll give you a good chance of completing this often challenging process successfully.