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The importance of stakeholder engagement

Joe Wedgwood | 15th March 2019

There’s a wealth of articles about employee engagement. I should know… I’ve probably written about 10% of them! But how often do you see anything on stakeholder engagement?

We should be reading more about the importance of keeping everyone engaged, not just your staff and customers. Well worry not friends as this is your lucky day. I’m going to detail the importance of stakeholder engagement and include some cast iron strategies to help keep them happy.

What is a stakeholder?

Before we get into the meat and bones of stakeholder engagement, I think it’s best to start from the beginning and clearly define what a stakeholder is.

Put simply, anyone who has any dealings with your business or who can affect its success (or lack thereof) is a stakeholder! I like to think of a business as a clock and the stakeholders as all the mechanisms that ensure the clock keeps ticking. Simple right?

Stakeholders can be split into two groups – internal and external:

  • Internal stakeholders: This covers anyone who is on the pay roll. This includes staff, owners, shareholders and board members.
  • External stakeholders: This covers that is not directly part of your business but still affects/is affected by its activities. This includes suppliers, Customers, partners, government, email lists, social media followers and even the local/wider community.

What is stakeholder engagement?

It’s the process where we generate buy-in from the business stakeholders and get them more interested in the business. Stakeholder engagement involves a company being responsible to all its stakeholders by ensuring they are involved with the goings-on of the business.

Stakeholder engagement is vital in today’s working world. It’s driven by a need for ethical and diverse leadership with input from lots of different areas.

The benefits of stakeholder engagement

If you want your organisation to be a success, then you need buy-in at all levels and from all angles. By working on strategies to boost stakeholder engagement you will see huge business improvement:

  • Increased opportunities for learning.
  • More effective risk management.
  • A better understanding of people’s needs at different levels and across different areas.
  • More informed decision making.
  • Everyone involved in the business has a voice… meaning more insight and innovation.
  • A shared vision amongst key influencers.
  • People/groups can share their varying experience, expertise and knowledge.
  • Easily identify strategies to gain a competitive edge.

How do we engage stakeholders?

Here at The Happiness Index, we believe that to build and support ongoing engagement with all stakeholders there is a checklist of things that must be considered. But before we delve into that, it’s key to first identify who your stakeholders are:

Baby steps are key in this area. First, you should make a list of all your stakeholders. if you’re struggling then it’s advisable to break it up into internal and external stakeholders.

Internal stakeholders should be easy. The external list will require you to think more broadly. Consider anyone who could be affected by the success or failure of your business. It’s also wise to consider future stakeholders. Are you considering moving abroad or currently pitching for new business? If so, add these people to your list and start building relationships now.

Your lists should not only include names but also who is responsible for managing the relationships with the stakeholder. Failure to do this from the outset will make the whole process very difficult to manage.

Now let’s really get into it. Below are my top-5 tips to build stakeholder engagement:

Build relationships and trust

Trust is the cornerstones of relationship-building. It is essential for stakeholder buy-in and engagement. Spend time with your stakeholders, speak to them regularly and learn what makes them tick. All of this will help you to be a more empathetic leader, partner, supplier etc – which will help you create stronger working relationships.

People respect effort. If you invest time in getting to know people, then they will reciprocate that effort and invest in you and the business. Stay on top of this and stakeholder engagement will be much easier to maintain and sustain.

Have a clear vision

You can’t succeed in business without a clear vision. Any robust vision will be created off the back of a planning process. An effective plan will also require input from key stakeholders. Without all this in place, you’re just like a brood of headless chickens running around aimlessly! And no one wants that…

A shared understanding of your vision is essential if you want stakeholder buy-in. By utilising your stakeholders and making them central to the process from the outset, you will ensure buy-in and engagement.

There are several simple ways you can engage stakeholders in the process of defining/honing your vision:

  • Hold them accountable by requesting they provide ideas.
  • Maintain open communication throughout.
  • Request feedback at each stage of the process.
  • Enlist them to help draft the vision statement.

Build projects/processes around stakeholder engagement 

Many projects can fail to achieve their goals… or even worse be catastrophic failures because the stakeholder engagement was not an integral part of the process. Stakeholder engagement from the outset of all tasks, projects, initiatives etc will create accountability, excitement and involvement from multiple sources. All of these will help to make projects more successful and stakeholders more engaged. Win-win for all.

It’s essential that all stakeholders understand the plan and goals of everything they’re involved in. So, ensure you build in time to go through the plan and answer any questions people have.

Get the stakeholders involved

If you want your stakeholders to take an interest and be engaged, then you must make them central to your processes. Don’t just send a newsletter every now and again or tell them what you’re going to do. Find out what your stakeholders think you should do and tap into their expertise and insights to help dictate strategy.

You need to speak regularly with them and listen and respond to their feedback. People will only be interested in your business if you’re interested in them. So, make efforts to demonstrate that you are. For example, add some dates in the diary where specific stakeholders can be involved in decision-making processes that coincide with their talents. Include them in discussions and debate where possible too.

Focus groups will provide you with an amazing opportunity to get everyone involved and to benefit from everyone’s insight. It’s so important that everyone, at all levels, feel like they’ve been involved and listened to.

Have a clear communications plan

For a business to be successful everyone needs a clear understanding of your goals and your progress. Everything must be shared in a streamlined and consistent way. This ensures both internal and external stakeholders understand the vision, mission and company goals – as well as their individual roles.

To be an effective communicator you need to empathise with people, bring people into the conversation at the right time to leverage their skills and constantly educate them to ensure they are kept in the loop and understand what is required of them.

An effective stakeholder communicator will create transparency, ensure that everyone feels like they are part of something bigger and help people understand how their role fulfils a larger goal. You will also need to communicate with your stakeholders regularly to sustain their engagement and stop people from having wandering eyes.

Finally, you must request feedback; listen and demonstrate that you understand people’s concerns, ideas and thoughts. Then highlight how you will move forward with their feedback in mind.You may decide to disregard their feedback or go another way, this is up to you. Ensure you follow up with them and provide a detailed explanation regardless. That’s the only way to create trust create lasting engagement.

Final thoughts

This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Using any of these strategies in isolation will help but if you truly want to build a team of engaged and happy stakeholders then you need to combine the strategies.

By following these strategies and creating a team of engaged stakeholders you will create a workforce where everyone involved with the business wants you to succeed, feels valued and contributes towards your goals.