Ward to the Wise

Stakeholder Relations: The Essentials

puzzle-pieces-stakeholdersThe success of large infrastructure or transformative initiatives relies heavily on engaging with key stakeholders. Creating a robust stakeholder relations program to build relationships with those who care about your project and can influence the outcome, is essential for success.  Engaging with stakeholders early and seeking their input in the decision-making process for initiatives that significantly impact individuals and communities, must be an organizational priority.

Who cares about your organization and what are their concerns?

Identifying who is impacted or has significant influence over your organization’s initiative is the first step in stakeholder engagement. Employees, shareholders, customers, contractors, elected officials, competitors, government agencies, investors and financial institutions, regulators, landowners, local businesses, voters, activists, NGOs, community leaders/influencers, industry, the media, etc., all may care or be affected by your actions.

As soon as these stakeholders are identified, meet with them to educate them about your plans and seek their input regarding issues or concerns they may have. Beware not to fall into the trap many companies have – approaching every initiative with what you believe is your tried-and-true formula.  Operating in “the way we’ve always done it” is a sure sign the communications team is no longer present to external dynamics and is likely to get tripped up by opposition that is being creative in real time – to undermine your relationships with your most important audiences. Early stakeholder input allows you to assess how your project may be affected and develop operational – not just communications — strategies to address those concerns. If your input process has become a forum for your team to message and influence how people think, rather than a process of integrity whereby your stakeholders are heard by you and others in the community, it is likely your company is not living its stated values, and someone will soon be effective at getting the public input rules changed to ensure integrity exists in the process regulators require.

What role do these stakeholders play in your success?

Once you know the stakeholder concerns, rank them in order of who has the most influence.  Who will be significantly affected by your plans and what role will they play in your success?  Does your initiative require regulatory approval?  Do you need endorsement from elected officials? Are local community influencers important to successful implementation?  Do you have opposition that will be effective in gaining support for their position? Are there highly visible supporters?  Will stakeholders be affected short or long term? Will your actions garner negative media attention?  Will shareholders be concerned? These and other questions should be considered when ranking stakeholders’ influence.

How do you effectively engage your stakeholders?

Building strong stakeholder relationships requires strategic planning and messaging, ongoing interaction and communication and diligent nurturing.  Keeping stakeholders updated on your progress and being accessible to address concerns and answer questions will inform your decision-making and enhance the outlook for a successful conclusion. But be very clear, even the most robust PR and community relations will not be able to overcome poor decisions and actions by your company.  Your number one job will be to challenge management and operations people to conduct themselves according to the company’s stated values, and adapt their profit-seeking plans to honor the values of their community as well.  If they don’t walk the talk, no amount of messaging will restore public trust, and eventually, those your company has alienated will find ways to make your future plans more difficult.  You may win this battle, but find subsequent ones far more costly.

Is your organization planning a large transformational initiative others may or may not support?  Ward’s team can help you plan and implement a proactive stakeholder relations program.  Contact us and let’s talk.

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