The Ins and Outs of a Stellar Stakeholder Engagement Plan
THE INS AND OUTS OF A STELLAR STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT PLAN
A key component of any successful project is ensuring that the relevant stakeholders are kept engaged in the decision-making process from start to finish. Neglecting stakeholder engagement opens the door for costly miscommunications, ill-informed decisions, and drastic reductions in project efficiency.
A stakeholder engagement plan exists precisely to close this door and make sure it stays closed. It lays out the strategies and processes an organization will follow to ensure effective communication with stakeholders.
In this article, we’ll go over the ins and outs to creating your stakeholder engagement plan, from defining what stakeholders are and identifying your unique stakeholders, to forming tailor made action plans to reach them.
I. Identify your stakeholders.
Before you can identify your stakeholders, you should understand what the term refers to.
Put simply, a stakeholder can be defined as anyone that can be affected by a company decision.
This means that the general public, target audiences and consumer bases, employees, managers, executives, investors, prospective investors, and even policy makers can all be counted as potential stakeholders.
Identifying which people among this broad spectrum are most relevant to the project in question should be the first step you take when devising your engagement plan.
So, how do you identify your specific stakeholders?
Start by figuring out each stakeholder’s relevancy. There are generally three types of relevancies for stakeholders.
1. Key (or Leaders)
Key stakeholders, also known as leaders, are individuals whose influence is powerful enough to influence large swathes of the project’s development.
Key stakeholders can include both internal bodies, such as project sponsors, and external bodies, such as government agencies. This article from the Harvard Business Review goes over a great set of questions to ask when determining if a stakeholder should be key or not. To summarize, these questions are:
- Do they have a fundamental impact on your organization’s performance?
- Desired Answer: Yes.
- Can you identify what you want from this stakeholder?
- Desired Answer: Yes
- Is your relationship with this stakeholder one you want to grow—is it dynamic?
- Desired Answer: Yes
- Could you easily exist without this stakeholder or if you replaced them?
- Desired Answer: No
- Has this stakeholder already been identified by another relationship—i.e., is counting them as a key stakeholder redundant?
- Desired Answer: No
If your answers for a given stakeholder match all the desired answers, then they should be counted as a key stakeholder.
2. Primary (or Contributors)
These are individuals whose involvement will play a pivotal role in the project’s success, such as major suppliers, officials, and team members in charge of organizing necessary paperwork and labor.
Where key stakeholders drive the project direction and help make major decisions, primary stakeholders are the support that makes those plans a reality.
Relevant regulatory agencies will likely fall into this category, as maintaining contact with them is often necessary to ensure compliance with the law.
Without securing the necessary permits to go forward with a construction project, for example, the rest of it is doomed to fail.
Which particular agencies you will need to include will, of course, vary by your specific industry and the nature of the project at hand. Doing the proper research to determine this should be part of your identification process.
3. Secondary (or Bystanders)
These are individuals who are likely to be engaged later on, either for or against the project. They have little to no hand in its development, but their reaction to its outcome is still worth monitoring in many cases. News media, reviewers, and other associations typically fall into this category.
Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, you can begin to sort them. In the next section, we’ll discuss the dichotomy of stakeholder power versus interest, and the levels of engagement that dichotomy determines.
II. Sort your stakeholders according to their power and interest in the project.
The first step to sorting your stakeholders is to assess why they’re engaged with your project, and how much power and interest they have in regard to it. Start with assessing their interests in the project:
- What’s the reason for their interest in your project?
- Does their interest clash or align with yours?
- What would be their objective for getting involved in the project?
- How likely are they to support or oppose your project?
The second step is assessing how much potential power they have over the project:
- What’s their area of influence and what project phases could those areas impact?
- What is the source of their influence? What can you do to hold that source in check?
- Can you counter their power, or would it be more feasible to accommodate them due to ROI (Return on Investment) or risks?
The higher their interest and power, the more effort you should be dedicating to engage with them. The lower their interest and power, the less effort you need to put in to engage with them. This sorting of power to interest can be visualized using the Power-Interest Matrix below:
Secondary stakeholders, for example, will most often fall in the blue quadrant of Low Power/Low Interest. Primary stakeholders can fall into either the orange or green quadrant, depending on the circumstances of their duties and involvement. Key stakeholders will invariably fall into the red category.
III. Draft your engagement plan according to stakeholder power versus interest.
Using the above steps, you should now be ready to devise your stakeholder engagement plan. Remember that the point of this plan is to lay out when and how to provide relevant information to stakeholders and maximize their involvement.
There are three priority levels your stakeholders should fall into in regards to engagement, as this article from Tractivity goes over in detail. Which priority level a stakeholder falls into will determine what communication measures you should take, and how often these measures should be deployed.
Informing (Low Power/Low Interest)
This is the lowest of the priority levels. Secondary stakeholders should land here. Communication should be kept passive for this level so as to not waste time and resources. Push out relevant information on channels where your secondary stakeholders will know where to find it, such as social media, press releases, project and company blogs, corporate websites, digital newsletters, and emails.
It’s up to your secondary stakeholders whether they choose to read the information.
Consulting (Low Power/High Interest and High Power/Low Interest)
This is the second highest priority level for engagement. Primary stakeholders should fall into this category, with differing engagement measures depending on where they fell on the power and interest matrix. You should include them in all the same communications as the Informing category.
On top of these base measures, you should also set up online communications, such as forums and Slack and Teams channels, where Consulting stakeholders can raise questions and respond to other issues discussed. E-polls and surveys should be used to gauge their reactions to changes in the projects, and the responses analyzed accordingly for future reference.
For High Power/Low Interest stakeholders in this bracket, they should receive all of the previous measures, and a more hands-on approach. While they may not be very interested in the project, they will nonetheless play important roles in its completion; hence, it pays to do the following:
- Share project ideas and feedback with them in real time.
- Ask them to review relevant documents that might increase their interest. Boosting their personal investment in the project will prove beneficial, as it converts neutral parties into supporters.
- Target them with personalized communications and invite them directly to review postings that may raise their level of interest.
Also, be sure to clearly define what role they can play in the project, whether as champions, advisors, fundraisers, or service providers.
Collaborating (High Power/High Interest)
This is the highest priority level for engagement, where key stakeholders will land. At this level, you should essentially be treating your stakeholders as members of your team. This level is by far the most intimate and, as such, the communications used in the previous tiers will not suffice. To engage with Collaborating stakeholders requires:
- Allowing them to review project risk registers in real-time. This can easily be done by making it a shared file and ensuring they are notified every time a change is made.
- Involving them in co-authoring relevant process documents.
- Inviting them to provide guest posts to your project and company blogs. Tailor their contributions to the specific interest they have in your project.
- Using them as your pseudo-board of directors for the project’s management. Share cost, schedule, and performance concerns with them to get their feedback and suggestions.
- Giving them a corporate email tied to your project and making sure they are on the distribution list for important information, such as pending PR announcements and major project announcements.
- Allowing them access to your internal project management communication channels. If you use a project communication tool like Slack, they need to be on it. If you are using a formal task management tool, they need to be invited to each task list and given work to accomplish as part of the project schedule.
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No matter where the stakeholder lies in the power versus interest conversation, keeping all stakeholders in the loop and up to date on the happenings of your company will ensure communication is consistent and that all invested parties are on the same page.
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