18 May 2021

Stakeholder engagement strategy: win over your stakeholders

Skills, Project communication
Stakeholder engagement strategy: win over your stakeholders

As playwright, George Bernard Shaw once said, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."  

During a project, it is inevitable that a large part of your role will be communicating with multiple stakeholders throughout the life of the project. AIPM’s 2021 Membership Survey shows just how important effective communication is, with the majority of respondents listing stakeholder communication as one of the top skills required to be a project manager today.
 
The key here is engagement, and in this article we provide a simple strategy to follow to effectively communicate with and influence your stakeholders.


What are the key benefits of stakeholder engagement?

1. Improves both internal and external project relationships - Effective stakeholder engagement will help you understand the perspective of others and support you in building a healthy rapport and strong working relationships with your stakeholders.

2. Enhance your knowledge pool - More engaged stakeholders will provide you with greater access to insights, knowledge and resources. This can be quite helpful in ensuring the project thrives through having a larger knowledge pool to tap into.

3. Better planning and decision making - With greater contribution from your stakeholders on key matters, you will be able to make more well-informed decisions and plan accordingly. Far too often, projects come unstuck because they do not have stakeholder engagement during the planning phase, only for conflicts and roadblocks to take shape later. Think of the cost and time savings you can achieve as you get your stakeholders onboard early. 

 

Stakeholder engagement strategy: 3 simple steps to better communication

​So how can you get started with your stakeholder engagement strategy? In this section, we will look at three simple steps to enhance your communication and ensure the stakeholders to your project are on board.

 


 

Step 1: Analyse your stakeholders 

Most project managers should be able to resonate with this phrase - “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. When it comes to engaging with stakeholders, it’s important to take the time to analyse your stakeholders and consider what kind of communication method would suit them best.
 
Remember, effective communication is about understanding others first, before being understood. As you analyse and begin to understand your stakeholders, you will gain valuable insights as to how to communicate and liaise with them.
 
For your project, think of all the different stakeholders involved. Now for each stakeholder, capture the following information:

  1. Are they an internal or external stakeholder?

  2. What are their expectations?

  3. What are their key concerns?

  4. What level of effort is needed? This could be one of four possible actions (adopted from Mendelow’s stakeholder matrix):

  • Manage closely - Typically applicable for stakeholders who have high power and high interest
  • ​Keep satisfied - For stakeholders who have high power and low interest
  • Keep informed - For stakeholders who have low power but high interest
  • Monitor their needs - For stakeholders who have low power and low interest 

Asking these simple questions will help provide insight into your stakeholders’ needs and will help adjust your communications to suit.
 

Step 2: Create alignment 

To be a sought after project manager, there are certain project management skills that are a must have - ensuring good communication with your stakeholders is one of them.  
 
Once you have taken the time to analyse your stakeholders, the next step in your stakeholder engagement strategy will be ensuring you’re aligned. Before the project commences take the time to set up a meeting to discuss the core objectives of the project:

  1. What are we looking to achieve?

  2. ​What are the benefits of the project?

  3. What are the success criteria for the project?

  4. What are each of our roles in supporting the delivery of the project?

  5. What are some of the roadblocks that we anticipate?

Going through the above points collectively can help build a culture of “What’s right, rather than who’s right”, which is a crucial factor in aligning stakeholders.
 

Step 3: Activate engagement 

Communication with your stakeholders works best by establishing key touchpoints for communication. For instance, while some stakeholders such as the project team may need to be updated weekly through face to face or video conferencing meetings, others such as senior executives or managers may prefer less regular updates through a fortnightly email or newsletter update.

This will make your communication more intentional, and your stakeholders will know what to expect, which is a great way to boost their engagement. Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure you establish the right kind of engagement strategy with your stakeholders.

  1. What aspects of the project does the stakeholder need to know about?

  2. What is their desired frequency and medium of communication?

  3. Are there any recurring meetings/catch ups to discuss key project reports?

  4. How are project issues and risks communicated?

  5. What is the escalation process to resolve any open concerns?

When it comes to ensuring effective engagement with your stakeholders, tailoring communication to each individual or group is essential. When drafting your engagement strategy, also ensure there are avenues available for any issues or problems to be raised. 
 

Through a combination of understanding your stakeholders, creating alignment around key objectives and creating a pathway for effective communication, you will develop an effective stakeholder engagement strategy and position yourself as a trusted advisor for your stakeholders.
 





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