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How to win stakeholders’ hearts and minds

Successful stakeholder engagement brings with it a host of benefits, beginning with more informed decision-making and risk reduction. By Lou Ellerton

By understanding people’s views, you can gain intelligence into new markets, build trust in your brand and business and create powerful advocates.

Different perspectives will find innovative, market-leading solutions – and in the best cases, your stakeholders will drive these forward.

These people are not solely external, however: any sizeable organisation is likely to have internal stakeholders whose support must be maintained. But it is far easier to get it wrong than to put it right.

There are five principles of successful engagement:

  1. Know who you want to engage with, that is all those who can influence or be influenced by what you do. Don’t just think about immediate audiences; consider the lifespan of your activity. Are there development or delivery partners you will need to involve? Prospective tenants?
  2. Be clear on your objectives. The engagement process should drive decisions, not merely be a PR exercise. Whether you need to quickly solve a crucial issue or look long term, ensure all parties are clear on what is expected. Clarify which elements or decisions aren’t up for discussion.
  3. Choose the appropriate means to achieve aims. These can range from simple information distribution through a newsletter or website to focus groups and public meetings.
  4. Provide clear actions. Successful engagement doesn’t finish once you’ve gained the required response. If you want people to invest time and effort, give them a clear rundown of what you’ve done with their contribution. And if you’ve chosen not to act on feedback, explain why.
  5. Be prepared to commit time and resource. To involve people in your work and to maintain that involvement will require effort, whether you’re working in the public or the private sector. After all, you wouldn’t expect to build a great relationship by hanging up halfway through a conversation, would you? 

Think about why, when and how you’re connecting with people – and just who they may be. A tailored plan with clear objectives set out at the start will be better than just ticking boxes.

Lou Ellerton is a freelance consultant.

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