By reading this blog, we hope you feel confident that you can improve how you engage with your stakeholders in order to build stronger relationships with them so that your project can reach its full potential.
Your project is underway, your senior management team is on board, and your stakeholders have been identified. Now what? It is never too early to start engaging with your stakeholders and building stronger relationships with them.
The relationships you have with your project stakeholders are just as important as your relationships with senior management. Negative stakeholder relationships can result in not only the delay or cancellation of your project but can also cause long-term damage to the reputation of your entire organization. By working to improve relationships with your project stakeholders, you can help them understand your project better, feel included in the process, and ultimately be better equipped to deal with the outcomes.
Jambo customers are constantly seeking new ways to improve relationships with their stakeholders, so we have compiled this list of tips by speaking with them often and learning from their experiences.
1. Begin Conversations Early
Beginning conversations early with stakeholders is essential to building trust. The goal is for them to hear about your project from you, not online or from the dreaded rumour mill. If stakeholders feel left out of the process, they may have a bad taste in their mouth from the very beginning; leaving you with some unhappy and disengaged stakeholders.
You can help avoid this situation by making a list of stakeholders that need to be engaged in the very early stages of a project and reaching out to them as soon as possible. This shows them that you respect their opinions and makes them feel included in the process.
2. Set a Schedule for Communicating with Stakeholders
We’ve all heard the horror stories of consultation open houses being arranged just before feedback deadlines, or rescheduled consultations with minimal notice to those concerned. These instances often aggravate stakeholders and can lead to less than desirable situations.
Instead, consider creating a consultation schedule early on. By setting timelines early and clearly communicating them to your stakeholders, you increase awareness with your stakeholders and better prepare them for engagement. This also helps mitigate stakeholder angst over the feeling of not having enough time to prepare or respond during the particular consultation period.
3. Be Honest
This one goes without saying; it would be impossible to improve relationships with stakeholders without being honest. Develop trust by being transparent with project plans. Don’t risk hiding things because you will likely be found out (and that’s not going to be an easy thing to get out of)! Maps of project plans and project update reports are great opportunities to be transparent, open, and honest with your stakeholders.
4. Stay Consistent with Your Messaging
Develop key messages early on and use them consistently. If you need to change your messaging for any reason, be clear about what has changed and why. With archived information easily accessible online, it is no longer possible to change direction without the risk of being called out for inexplicable changes.
5. Communicate Often
To further elaborate on the point above – make sure that communication is scheduled often! Communication to stakeholders doesn’t stop after your initial project stages are over; regular communication is key to gaining stakeholder support. Issue regular project updates and demonstrate to stakeholders that their feedback has been received and noted. Showing stakeholders how their feedback has been used can go a long way. When stakeholders feel like they’ve been heard, they’re typically much happier and more likely to support your project.
6. Show You’re Listening
One complaint often heard from stakeholders after a consultation is that they felt that they weren’t being listened to or taken seriously. Sometimes this is a result of the person doing the consultation having good body language or using other visual cues, such as taking notes to indicate that they're hearing what the stakeholder is saying.
Consider bringing a notebook to scribe key points or make mention of your intent to summarize bullets after you leave. Remember to make eye contact, smile occasionally and ask questions throughout your conversation. Then at the end of the conversation, it’s also a good idea to summarize what you've heard to confirm with the stakeholder that you've listened and are providing them with the opportunity for any clarification needed.
7. Provide Multiple Ways for Stakeholders to Share Their Input
To improve your relationships with stakeholders, give them more than one way to provide feedback. Stakeholders want the opportunity to voice their opinions and this needs to be easy and accessible for them.
Online engagement, such as e-surveys, can help lower barriers to engagement by increasing accessibility, but some stakeholders might have unreliable internet access or may not be particularly tech-savvy. In-person meetings require more time, but also offer both you and the stakeholder the opportunity to learn more about each other's needs. Body language and tone of voice are two things that can't be expressed online through text boxes and multiple-choice lists. Try connecting with a resistant stakeholder in person rather than relying on their online feedback so that issues can be resolved with limited misunderstanding from both parties.
8. Involve Rather Than Inform – Or Better Yet, Collaborate and Create Together
If you haven’t seen the IAP2 spectrum for public participation you should check it out. It was designed to assist in the selection of the level of participation that defines the public's role in any public participation process but can be used as a guide for stakeholder engagement projects large and small. It is beneficial to keep the spectrum in mind when developing an engagement plan. Simply informing stakeholders of your plans is often no longer sufficient and can result in costly problems further down the line.
Our Partner Program includes companies working across North America that have a solid track record in developing well-rounded stakeholder engagement/consultation plans that don’t just communicate project information but truly engage stakeholders while working towards overall outcomes. Contact us for an approved list of Jambo Partners.
9. Maintain Stakeholder History
Stakeholders often get frustrated when they’re consulted by the same organization on multiple occasions and are asked the same questions over and over. Having access to a full history of stakeholder interactions and being able to easily access that information before a stakeholder meeting means you’re prepared to start the meeting off on a good note. Keeping track of information such as their preferred name or their rules for visitors (e.g. close the gate on the way out!) plays a big part in building and gaining trust with them. Using cloud-based stakeholder engagement software like Jambo is a great way to ensure that important stakeholder information is always accessible.
10. Be Flexible and Consider Your Plan as a Living Process
As plans begin to be executed, unexpected things will inevitably pop up and require changes to your plan in order to keep everything moving forward. Being flexible and refining your process to align with stakeholders will help you build a better relationship with them and benefit your project in the long run. This could be related to scheduling meetings, the time allotted for feedback or even the tactics you’re using to engage. By listening to your stakeholders and exercising a bit of give and take, they will appreciate your flexibility and may even extend the same courtesy to you should you ever need it.
Working to improve and build better relationships with your stakeholders is a continuous effort but a great way to reduce risk. You may face challenges down the line, but if you’ve built strong relationships with stakeholders from the early days, your outcomes can be more favourable. We hope that you can use these ten tips to increase confidence across your projects, minimize unease, gain trust, and ultimately build better stakeholder relationships.
Jambo is the fastest and easiest stakeholder engagement and consultation software. It saves users time through an intuitive design that’s made for stakeholder engagement and consultation workflows. It keeps teams organized with a secure cloud platform that tracks engagement histories with stakeholders and allows users to quickly and easily record and report on their communications, contacts, issues, commitments, and tasks. Jambo empowers teams to be stakeholder engagement champions!
Top 10 Tips to Improve How You Engage with Your Stakeholders Infographic