In every project, change, or transformation initiative, stakeholder engagement is critical for success. Engaging stakeholders effectively can help ensure that everyone is on board, understands the project's goals, and is motivated to contribute their best efforts. As a learning and development leader, you must become adept at selecting, engaging, and communicating with stakeholders to design, develop, and deliver successful projects and initiatives. Stakeholder engagement can be quite beneficial as it helps reduce project risks; it ensures stakeholders refrain from making big and abrupt changes that risk the project’s success. Here are seven winning tactics to consider as you enhance your stakeholder engagement strategy.
Before engaging them, you need to know who they are. Make a list of everyone who might be affected by your project, including internal and external stakeholders. This might include employees, customers, suppliers, partners, investors, regulators, and community members. Once you have identified your stakeholders, prioritize them based on their "value and voice" in the project. Project Management Institute (1) defines “influence” as how much power a stakeholder has over a project. According to McKinsey, stakeholder value is defined as the amount of revenue, resources, or capital a specific stakeholder captures. In most organizations, 50% of the value is usually captured by 15 to 20 roles. A stakeholder's voice is defined as the amount of influence a stakeholder has on the organization. Influence is defined by whether the stakeholders are trusted, respected, and sought after for their advice. Your must-have stakeholders will have high value and a high voice, which means they are responsible for capturing value and are trusted and well-respected.
Each stakeholder will have their own needs and expectations, so understanding them is essential. Take the time to ask questions and listen to each stakeholder so that you can learn what they want from the project. Ask questions and seek their input to better understand their perspective. A key element in understanding stakeholder needs and expectations is being able to effectively define, understand, and manage polarities (2). Once you understand their needs and expectations, you can tailor your communication and engagement efforts to meet your stakeholders' needs.
Communication is vital to stakeholder engagement. Keep your stakeholders informed of project progress, milestones, and changes. Use a variety of communication channels, such as emails, newsletters, social media, and face-to-face meetings, to reach stakeholders where they are. Invite them to bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly online meetings, depending on your project. Use the meetings to provide updates to your project and offer your stakeholders a platform to share their feedback, insights, and perspectives on your progress. Be clear, concise, and transparent in your communication, and ensure you address their concerns and questions and leverage their recommendations and suggestions.
Building coalitions that lead to solid relationships with your stakeholders is critical to successful engagement. Take the time to get to know each stakeholder individually and establish rapport and trust. Show your stakeholders that you value their input and are committed to working together towards a common goal. Remember that relationship building is an ongoing process that requires time and effort. As revealed in related research by Harvard Business Review (3), high-impact coalitions are new organizational structures that connect the main organization with thought leaders from industry, academia, NGOs, and government to work together and ask hard questions to solve problems in order to deliver impactful outcomes. A good example of such an effective coalition is the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition (C19HCC), formed in March 2020. This coalition consisted of 18 dedicated leaders from key organizations, including Amazon Web Services. Epic, Mayo Clinic, and Microsoft worked together and addressed many important questions that informed how the world could tackle to specific issues around the covid 19 pandemic.
Stakeholders will be more engaged and invested in the project if they feel their opinions and feedback are important and if they also have a say in the decision-making process. Seek their input and involve them in decision-making in your weekly or periodic meetings. If they are high-value and high-voice stakeholders, they will provide value-adding feedback that is vital to your efforts. Engaging stakeholders by seeking their feedback will ensure that the project reflects the stakeholder's needs and expectations, as well as their commitment to the project and its success.
Stay informed about research and trends that are relevant to your project and share them with your stakeholders. Keep an eye on trends and changes that could impact the project, and be prepared to adjust your strategy as needed. Be prepared to anticipate potential challenges and issues on the project and be proactive in addressing them. Staying ahead of the change will help you avoid surprises and keep stakeholders informed and engaged.
Finally, measure and evaluate your stakeholder engagement efforts regularly. Doing so can inform your overall efforts around the progress and outcomes of your project. Additionally, measurement and evaluation can help you demonstrate the value your stakeholders bring to your effort and help you recognize and celebrate their contributions. You can use stakeholder engagement platforms (4) to leverage front-office stakeholder engagement tools and back-office data analytics to better measure, evaluate, and recognize your stakeholders. Stakeholder recognition is foundational in building coalitions because it strengthens your relationships with your stakeholders in the long run.
Stakeholders are vital to an organization, and stakeholder engagement is essential to the success of any project or initiative. Stakeholders can be internal and external to your organization, or both. By defining your stakeholders, understanding their needs and expectations, communicating regularly and effectively, building relationships, seeking stakeholders' feedback, being proactive, and evaluating and recognizing your stakeholder engagement, you will be able to engage your stakeholders effectively and leverage their wisdom, insights, and contributions to address challenges and deliver successful business outcomes.
(1) Stakeholder analysis
(2) eLearning Skills 2030: Managing Polarities
(3) Creating High-Impact Coalitions
(4) Stakeholder Management Software
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