One of the most common questions I’ve heard from clients about engaging stakeholders is, “When is the right time for us to be connecting with stakeholders (customers or clients or consumers or constituents)?”
I often start my response with a little light humor: “As often as the weather changes.”
But then I turn serious, because it all gets down to -- What’s at stake?
The more that’s at stake, or the higher the risk there is to your organization’s ongoing viability, the more regularly you want to be connecting with stakeholders.
(We use “stakeholder” as an overall term, but for you, that stakeholder could be specifically known as an individual customer, client, consumer, member, or constituent -- or it may be an organizational client or customer or constituent.)
Here are a few questions for 1) companies, nonprofits, and 2) public agencies to consider as you think about the purpose, frequency, and quality of your stakeholder engagement program:
1) A Few Questions for Companies and Nonprofits
Do you have competitors edging in on your market? Who are those competitors, according to your stakeholders? What competitors are emerging?
Are you in touch with what people or organizations or investors need or are worried about right now?
What is the customer/client/member experience or journey? When do they buy or not buy, and why?
What are you doing that differentiates you in the marketplace? Do your stakeholders identify that when you talk with them?
What are the big factors that stakeholders use in deciding to use your product or service -- or choose another? For nonprofits, how do people decide to support you and not another cause?
What big “headaches” do you solve for stakeholders -- or for nonprofits, for society or your community? What do you excel at?
What do stakeholders say about you and what you provide -- good and bad? What do they wish you did, or didn’t do?
Do you do an Engagement Audit periodically to assess what’s working well about your engagement efforts and what can be enhanced -- looking at both formal and informal channels as well as your overall engagement strategy, tools, and metrics?
Like you, stakeholders probably face pressures to save money, or in the case of organizations that buy from you, also work more effectively or more efficiently.
Remember that the bottom line or cost is often the decisionmaker.
Your job is to know and focus on how and why they decide to choose YOU -- and help the customer or client or member justify buying from you on an ongoing basis. Good info regularly received is the key in doing just that.
Here’s a great example of how gathering info on stakeholder perceptions can benefit an organization.
Stakeholder perceptions that affect the value of green buildings (World Green Building Council, 2013) Courtesy of ResearchGate.net
2) A Few Questions for Public Agencies
In addition to many of the questions listed above, a few that are specific to agencies include:
Do you know what the big worries or concerns that the constituents or people you serve are worried about? (Another way to ask that question is, “What concerns keep people up late at night writing letters to elected officials?”)
Does your team regularly discuss stakeholder concerns and which ones are the most common that you’re hearing?
What are the big themes in the mainstream media, which may influence stakeholder viewpoints or needs or concerns? And on social media?
Do you have a system or structure to identify and prioritize which concerns need to be discussed and addressed through policies or programs or service adjustments?
What reporting or other activities do you do to build the relationship with stakeholders - within the organization, among other agency partners, with lawmakers, and with the public?
Are you leading or are you reacting when it comes to stakeholder concerns that relate to your core mission?
As with the private sector and nonprofits, agencies that don’t tap into what stakeholders are saying may be out of touch with the concerns of those stakeholders. The result may be that the agency is less able to be proactive when it’s in the best agency’s interest -- or the agency becomes the recipient of requests from lawmakers to address stakeholder concerns. The agency then may have more limited choices at that point to shape the change that corresponds to stakeholder needs.
In summary, being proactive is a central element of an effective stakeholder engagement program, for companies, nonprofits, and public agencies.
This means paying close attention to what stakeholder needs or concerns are, and how you are positively addressing those needs or concerns in support of your organizational mission.
Can we help with building or assessing your stakeholder engagement program? Reach out to Beth Offenbacker, Ph.D., to discuss if our Advising for Optimized Stakeholder Engagement service is right for your organization.