Australian companies invest considerable time and effort to ensure communication with investors and customers is of the highest quality. Yet many seemingly struggle to manage, or even define, priority stakeholders outside these groups – the policy makers, regulators, suppliers, industry groups, advocates and detractors who have a significant impact on the reputation and sustainability of the business.
One reason is that true stakeholder engagement requires you to listen, consult, and even change the way you do business. Not every business is willing to be truly consultative, but for those willing to take the plunge, we have put together a few tips to ensure success.
Align with your strategy
Stakeholder engagement can support and leverage your business goals. If your business depends on a stable regulatory environment, consistent engagement with policy makers will be key. If you’re a small cap seeking funding, then leading investors and brokers are more likely to be the centre of your stakeholder approach.
Maintain a database
You can’t have good stakeholder relations if you don’t know who they are. Catalogue your most important stakeholders and make someone in the business responsible for each relationship. I use Google Sheets, but any cloud-based spreadsheet program can work.
Don’t be afraid to prioritise your stakeholders. The more unwieldy your list, the less likely you will provide quality engagement. If you don’t have the time or inclination to meet each stakeholder in person, then think about whether they should be included.
How are you, really?
It’s human nature to avoid confrontation. One of your stakeholders could be secretly stewing over some imagined slight, while you think things are going along swimmingly. If you really want to know what’s going on in the minds of your stakeholders, consider employing a third-party to conduct a perception study.
It’s not all about you…
The most successful engagement programs put your stakeholder in the box seat. Keep a calendar of dates and events important to them. Receiving a call congratulating on a set of record results, or a letter after moving to a new position will help cement the relationship. Follow your stakeholder on LinkedIn, or set up a news alert so you know what is happening in their world.
Stay on message
You’ve done the hard work and established a set of key messages that support your business objectives. Although you’ve seemingly spouted these messages a thousand times, your stakeholders don’t live in your world. Keep consistently on message and always remind your stakeholders why you are important to them (see above: it’s not all about you!)
Consistency delivers results – but sometimes we need a reminder. Put an hour aside every week to focus on your priority stakeholders: make that call, send that email, or post that blog. If you need an excuse to communicate, why not institute a regular newsletter – just make sure you get it out on time!
Ask for feedback on the way you do business and record it on your stakeholder database. This means building a response mechanism in your newsletters and blogs, or simply start each meeting with open questions on what your priority stakeholders need from you. Be willing to take this information on board when reflecting on improvements and changes to your business.
It’s not hard
Don’t put stakeholder engagement on the backburner. Simply follow these common-sense rules:
- Know your stakeholders (and what’s important to them)
- Show you’re interested (and keep in touch)
- Stay on message
- Be ready to change to meet the needs of your stakeholders.
Listen to the people you need most and it will repay in spades.
If you need further help, consider partnering with a communication professional, such as Citadel-MAGNUS, to design your next stakeholder plan. We can also provide appropriate ongoing support to ensure you deliver against your objectives.