Why and how to engage your stakeholders

You have identified your stakeholders, you know the connections between them and you have an idea about their level of support. Now it is time to engage them actively.

There are several ways in which you can engage your stakeholders. Remember, a stakeholder can affect or be affected by your actions. The purpose of engaging them is two folded. On the one side, you want to ensure that they are adequately informed. On the other side, you want to hear from them and solicit their input or feedback.

Influencing perception

Perception is reality and thus you want to ensure that your stakeholders have the right perception of you or your project. To do so, it is important to show them the right elements and to inform them properly promptly. Depending on the context of your engagement with your stakeholders, you need to choose what is important. When the context is about you, you will have to do different things than when the context is about your project or your team.

There are several ways to inform stakeholders. In its simplest form, you can send out a regular newsletter. In one of my previous roles, I worked as the Global Alliance Executive for a multinational organization. Many stakeholders across the world were involved in our alliance. Every quarter we used to send the stakeholders a newsletter to inform them. This approach worked very well and was highly appreciated. It made us, as a team, with our partner, top of mind with the stakeholders.

Soliciting input

Another element of stakeholder engagement is to solicit their input. You might want to know how you are performing in their perception. Performing as an individual leader, as a team or in a collaboration. When you have many stakeholders, it might be a solution to engage a survey to gain input. A well-designed survey will give you a perception of how you are doing and at the same time allows room for suggestions on where to improve.  

In a more intimate setting it might be more helpful to conduct conversations with stakeholders. Conversations enable a more direct and tailored information flow. Having conversations will also allow you to create a more direct combination between providing information and soliciting feedback.

In the Stakeholder Centered Coaching methodology, Marshall Goldsmith prefers to talk about feedforward instead of feedback. Feedforward is an essential element of the coaching methodology. It is called feedforward, because feedback is about the past and we can not change the past. Feedforward, on the other hand, is about the future. It allows us to receive suggestions from our stakeholders that we can implement for improving the future.

When you engage with your stakeholders, it will benefit both you and your stakeholders. There is no reason not to engage stakeholders, however, do it consciously for the best results.

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