published on 21/03/2017 by John Edmonds
I recently ran a series of training courses and workshops for a major international client around the topic of Stakeholder Engagement. This is a subject that they take very seriously, to the extent of setting up an entire department for engaging with their vast array of stakeholders.
I was with them for a relatively short time, and so could not hope to fully understand many of the aspects of the engagement that was taking place, nor fully assess the culture of the organisation. Nevertheless, there is value in an ‘outside’ view of any organisation and how it appears to a ‘visitor’.
To begin with, there were some obvious aspects that create a challenge for stakeholder engagement:
- The field in which they operate is high profile, and the programme they are undertaking is an ambitious, forward-looking one, which will naturally attract a lot of interest
- There are over 40 nationalities represented on the staff
- There are significant relationships with a number of other countries, with all the cross-cultural challenges that are involved
- The workforce is relatively young
Two of the aspects of note that I observed were:
- The visible investment in stakeholder engagement. The fact that there is a department with ‘Stakeholder Engagement’ in its title, and that there are a number of roles in place for interfacing and coordinating with stakeholders demonstrates that investment. Furthermore, the high level of interest and involvement of senior staff during my time with the organisation, is further evidence that this is being taken very seriously. In our experience, this is not at all common. It is very encouraging to see this level of commitment to this most important aspect of corporate life. Stakeholder engagement is one of the core skills and key activities of senior management. Organisations can no longer choose if they want to engage with stakeholders or not; the only decision they need to take is when and how successfully to engage.
- Staff empowerment. This was in evidence through the culture of questioning that was encouraged, and it is an interesting cultural element that should underpin good engagement. Like all ‘statements of culture’ it needs to be seen to be real, rather than a mere aspirational slogan. The conversations that I had around this led me to believe it was indeed a genuine aspect of the culture. This can only serve to encourage staff members to better engage with the organisation and develop a sense of trust.
There was enthusiasm for the training and the workshops, and despite many pressures from their ‘day jobs’ people appeared to be keen to be in the sessions for as much as possible. Stakeholder engagement was being treated with some seriousness, and not as an afterthought, or as a rather unimportant ‘soft skill’.
A number of thoughts occurred to me during my time working with the client. Some of these were encouragements to continue with what they have started, some are suggestions for further developments.
There is a little ‘cycle’ of activities with which it is important to engage and keep coming back to:
- Invest time and energy in stakeholder engagement. It is important to remember that it has no end-point, it is not a one-off task on a project plan.
- Identify the correct stakeholders. This is also an iterative action that we must keep returning to, as our stakeholders will be constantly changing.
- Develop relationships. In Patrick Mayfield’s book, a key aspect of the ‘value ladder’ was the aspect of ‘leaning to relationships’. It is a message that comes out time and time again in the book. It is key.
- Give and Get Trust. The relationships that we all are looking to develop have to be built on trust, and we must start by trusting others (and that means all stakeholders, internal and external)
These are very basic, but it is important to just be reminded of them on a regular basis.
Some of my conversations brought to mind a book called ‘Good to Great’ (Jim Collins and others). In it they identified a number of factors that contribute to an organisation’s success. I think three of these factors are worth a mention here:
- First who, then what – find the right people. They stressed the importance of getting the right people in a position where they can do the right things. I would recommend regular reviews that includes the question, “Have we got the right people in place to engage with the current stakeholders?” Remember, stakeholders will change as you progress through a programme, and it may be necessary to change the people who are leading the engagement.
- The flywheel effect – the additive effect of many small initiatives. It can often be overlooked that small ideas, little nudges can have a significant effect. Looking for, and then encouraging those small changes can bring about a large amount of change. This speaks of empowering people to suggest and implement those little initiatives.
- A culture of discipline – to support those small steps. There is a famous saying that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Developing a culture of discipline means firstly encouraging people to identify small initiatives, then most importantly of all, having the discipline to carry them out. For example, an idea could be to arrange to meet one stakeholder each week for an informal conversation over a coffee to build and develop our relationship. The discipline is to ensure that we do it! Each week we make that appointment and we have that coffee. Sounds simple, but like all disciplines it requires effort (it needs to become one of our engagement ‘habits’).
In fact, all three are ‘simple’. Many great ideas are. They just need to be implemented and supported until they become habits individually and corporately.
Then there are some tips that I would always recommend for senior managers:
- Invest in your people – coach them, develop them to become great engagers of stakeholders
- Be enthusiastic, be positive to demonstrate that you believe in this and you consider it to be important
- Give credit to your team, praise people. Richard Branson says, “Learn to look after your staff first and the rest will follow”
- Use inclusive language to encourage the sense of team (words like ‘we’ are so important)
- Model great stakeholder engagement – show how it’s done!
Finally, what else can you do?
The week I spent with this client, and the training course plus the workshops, were at a general level of the importance of stakeholder engagement together with a ‘taste’ of some of the aspects, techniques and practices involved. I would recommend that you also consider looking at specific topics so that you build the Knowledge, Skills and Attitude of staff in key areas.
Some topics that I would particularly recommend are:
• Communication Planning – types of communication; crafting great messages; the importance of story; using appropriate communication channels; communication strategy and plans
• Becoming an Effective Manager of Change – the importance of change management; the range of change models and approaches; the role of the change manager/agent; change and the individual; change and the organisation
• Facilitation Skills – running meetings and teams; the nature and modes of facilitation; knowledge and skills of good facilitators; effective and dysfunctional teams; facilitation techniques
• How to deliver a powerful presentation – the importance of the spoken word; the visual, vocal and verbal challenge; making emotional contact’ structure and creativity
• Benefits Management – from identification to realisation; the power of ‘why?’; benefits versus outputs; the benefits management cycle
Associate Head of Training at pearcemayfield
Stakeholder Engagement is key to successful change
Pearcemayfield is highly experienced in providing bespoke Stakeholder Engagement workshop events for organisations, managers and teams undergoing transformational change. Our bespoke events are based on the acclaimed and ground-breaking book Practical People Engagement written by pearcemayfield founding Director Patrick Mayfield. By being flexible and non-proscriptive from the outset we address real life needs and challenges, enabling every individual to not only contribute but to take away what is most relevant to themselves personally and most useful to their particular role and responsibilities.
John Edmonds can visit you and your organisation and share the same expertise as he has done with other clients such as:
• The world's leading provider of technology for reservoir characterization, drilling, production, and processing to the oil and gas industry. Working in more than 85 countries and employing approximately 100,000 people who represent over 140 nationalities,
• One of the largest UK energy companies and listed on the London Stock Exchange, being a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
• A multinational Company headquartered in Asia and with over 30,000 employees. Its insurance division alone writes over 6 million policies and generates a turnover in excess of 3 billion euros.
• A global leader in the characterisation, standardisation and control of biological medicine who plays a key role in providing scientific advice and expertise to a large number of organisations, including manufacturers of biological medicines, national regulatory authorities, UK government and European bodies, the World Health Organisation and UN agencies.
“Having been in my current role for two years it was delight to attend this course. It confirmed some of my activities as being directed correctly but, more importantly, gave me the tools to take things forward in a more scientific manner” – Senior Manager, Client Lead
“The workshop was extremely well received and I believe we all benefited from it as well as enjoyed it. There was a lot of content, but when you can relate it to your own situation it takes it to a whole new level”. Workshop delegate
“It really was a pleasure. The buzz on Friday from those who attended was better than for any other workshop I’ve attended. We learned a lot and collectively seem determined to put it into practice”. Catherine Ewart, Head of Futures
Strategy, Performance and Communications Directorate | Science and Technology Facilities Council | Rutherford Appleton Laboratory | Harwell Oxford |
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