In this blog, our stakeholder engagement specialist, Sarah Hope, tells us how and why you should get to know your stakeholders better. Sarah has worked in stakeholder engagement for over six years, so her insights are relevant and useful. Below we discuss the research you should be doing before meeting your stakeholders, where to start with this research, the questions you should ask your stakeholders, and advice for keeping all this information organized to make it easy to review and learn from.
The Importance of Understanding Your Stakeholders
You need to understand what your stakeholders care about and how best to communicate with them. These understandings will help you:
- Engage better
- Be more informed
- Create more meaningful engagement plans
- Show your stakeholders the value they bring to your organization
- Build stronger stakeholder relationships
If you're unsure who your key stakeholders are, visit our blog, where we share steps on identifying them so you can ensure they are included during consultation and engagement processes.
Before Meeting with Stakeholders
The Pre-Engagement Stage
Think about engaging before you engage (i.e., the pre-engagement stage). In this pre-engagement stage, you can use different kinds of research to determine your stakeholder’s values, interests and what they need from you to communicate with you more effectively.
You’ll want to do some research around considerations like:
- If there are any cultural considerations and important protocols to follow
- How best to communicate (e.g., do you need a translator?)
- Any set beliefs or attitudes already established towards the project (this can help you decide what key messages to prepare)
- Are your planned sessions accessible? (how can you reduce barriers to engagement?)
With this kind of information, you will find you can communicate more effectively and show your stakeholders that you value their time, input, and relationships.
Remember, your stakeholder relationships are just like any relationship. The more you know about someone, the more meaningfully you can communicate with them.
Where To Find Information About Your Stakeholders
You can research and learn about your stakeholders by using things like:
- Community advocates and partners
- Online searches
- Public census data
- Social media searches
- Team insights
- Media information - like online tv and newspaper websites
1. Reach Out To Community Advocates Or Partners
Consider whether you already have connections that you can contact to help you learn about your stakeholders. Look for community advocates and consider your partners or any friendly relationships in the community where you want to engage. These can be excellent learning resources.
2. Search Online And Research Best Practices
Look for information from the communications realm on best practices for communicating. You can do a quick search online for this information using questions like “what’s the best time to email working professionals?” Each stakeholder group may have different times and days that work better for them. Whether they work in an office, are stay-at-home parents, or are in the volunteer realm, there’s likely information online about the best time to contact them. While this information won’t always be accurate for everyone, it’s a good place to start.
3. Use Public Census Data
Utilize public information on your stakeholders. For example, you can look for census data to find useful demographic information. While this data is high level and won’t go into too much detail, it’s another great starting place. However, remember that information from resources like census data should be viewed as assumptions, not absolute truths. An important part of your engagement journey will be challenging those assumptions to understand each stakeholder better.
4. Search Social Media
Social media is a great tool because you can search at various levels (e.g., keywords, locations, people, or organizations). For example, when doing pre-engagement on a community, you can search Facebook and Twitter for hashtags to see what conversations are happening. Facebook groups in the area are also a great resource. This isn’t necessarily to learn about individual people but to understand what communities as a whole are saying or feeling. However, you might see some names that you recognize.
5. Talk To Your Team
Don’t forget to reach out within your team or organization. If someone has already engaged or interacted with your stakeholders, they likely have valuable insights and experiences.
6. Search Online TV and News Websites
By searching on news websites for keywords like the community you are engaging with or important stakeholder names, you may discover news articles or news stories that give you valuable insights.
Questions You Should Ask Your Stakeholders To Get To Know Them Better
Depending on the situation you may have the opportunity to ask your stakeholders questions before meeting with them. However, no matter when the opportunity arises, questions that build a full profile and understanding of your stakeholders are always valuable.
Think of asking questions like:
- What interests you about this project?
- What is your preferred name?
- Do you prefer virtual or in-person?
- How do you feel about surveys?
- What is the best time/day to contact you?
It’s also important to also find out whether your stakeholders are engaging with you as a community member or as part of their job. If someone engages with you as a part of their job, they might be motivated differently as they’re representing the organization. For example, if they’re representing a government organization in a specific field, they’ll likely be interested in topics related to that field. Knowing this, you can consider these interests when building your key messages or preparing for meetings.
Who they’re representing can also affect the times they want to engage. For example, engaging during the day is usually better if they’re attending as part of their job because they don’t want to take time away from their personal lives.
Using The Information You’ve Learnt About Your Stakeholders
If you’re working hard to collect important information about your stakeholders, you can and should be using it to build better relationships with them. When you understand your stakeholders better you can have more effective communications with them, this will hopefully lead to them feeling respected, heard, and valued. All of these things help build trust and in turn create more positive stakeholder relationships.
To get the most out of this stakeholder information, you need to be able to organize it so you can easily view and search through it. The best way to do this is with Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software that includes a stakeholder profiles module.
Building Stakeholder Profiles In Your SRM Software
An SRM with a stakeholder profiles module will allow you to create a meaningful profile for each of your stakeholders. You can add all the information you know and have learnt about your stakeholders to the profile.
Stakeholder profiles can also give you an overview of:
- Their engagement history with your organization
- Any issues they’ve raised
- Commitments already made to them (also called promises or accommodations)
Why Stakeholder Profiles Are Important
Using the insights from your stakeholder profiles and referring to them for future planning can go a long way towards building good relationships.
Example #1: You review a stakeholder’s profile to see that they're from a volunteer organization. Based on this information, and as a gesture of goodwill, you may decide to provide lunch or coffee as you know they are not getting paid for meeting with you.
Example #2: You review a stakeholder’s profile to see that they've already raised an issue during a previous engagement about noise. Knowing this information, you can assume that noise will likely be important to that stakeholder so you can plan for that in your messaging before meeting with them.
You can share your learnings with your team and organization
Stakeholder profiles within an SRM are accessible to anyone on the team with a user account so if someone is communicating with a stakeholder, they can easily search to see if anyone has already engaged with that stakeholder. If they have, they can review the stakeholder profile to access the information and engagement notes previously logged. This helps build a more informed and prepared team. It also means stakeholders aren’t being asked the same questions multiple times.
You can learn about stakeholders who hold multiple roles
Your stakeholders can hold multiple roles and wear many different hats (i.e., someone can be an employee of an organization, a member of a parent council, and a volunteer for a local charity). So, it’s important to understand which hat your stakeholder is wearing during each engagement because they may have different interests, values or perspectives depending on which hat (or role) they’re wearing that day.
A huge benefit of an SRM with stakeholder profiles is the ability to tie your information back to the role they're representing for each engagement, giving you a richer perspective into that stakeholder, and helping you segment your data more effectively.
What About Using a CRM Instead Of An SRM?
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is ideal for managing customers and sales, while Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software is ideal for managing stakeholder relationships and stakeholder information. When it comes to stakeholder profiles and understanding your stakeholders, an SRM is the best option as it is built specifically for this need. If you’re unsure of the differences, check out our blog on why a CRM and an SRM are different.
Why You Should Get To Know Your Stakeholders Better
Doing research and pre-engagement activities helps you to better understand your stakeholder in the pre-engagement stage so you can work towards building trust with them. Asking more questions and working to understand them better in the engagement stages helps develop more positive stakeholder relationships as your projects move forward. You’re also building a foundation for you, your team, and your organization so that future engagement is more informed and proactive.
This work can offer you a great return on investment, so it’s well worth the time and effort!