The importance of stakeholder engagement

Team of project and programme team members standing in office engaging with a stakeholder

If you want your projects and programmes to be successful, it is crucial that proper Stakeholder Engagement and its associated activities take place.

Stakeholder Engagement is one of the practices in the new AXELOS AgileSHIFT® product. But it is more than just a process. It is a way of achieving and maintaining influence and by doing so producing positive outcomes through effective management of relationships. It is also a key skill across Portfolios, Programmes and Projects. The so-called Stakeholder engagement cycle needs to be managed because if it isn’t the quality of engagement with stakeholders and the essential two-way communication will suffer.

The Stakeholder Engagement Cycle is as follows:

1 Identify Stakeholders (Who?)

It can be useful to organise the stakeholders by category and note what they care about e.g. increased market share or saving costs.

2 Creating and analysing stakeholder profiles (Why? What?)

This will help understand the:

  1. Influences, emerging concerns, interests and attributes of the stakeholders towards the outcomes being produced
  2. Prioritize stakeholder engagement
  3. Focus resources to contribute to the most successful outcomes
  4. Ensure communication channels are exploited and aligned
  5. The Importance and power of each stakeholder.

This analysis can be recorded in a single document called a Stakeholder Profile. The key information from this creates the Stakeholder Register. This can be used to show the current status of the different groups and is much easier to review. The key document that feeds into the profile data is the Stakeholder Map. The stakeholder map and profiles need to be updated when new stakeholders are identified, or the interests of existing one’s change.

3 (Re)defining the Stakeholder Engagement Strategy (How?)

 This needs to be actively adjusted and redefined and can be influenced by the following:

  1. Scale of cultural, organizational or societal change
  2. Managing expectations
  3. Adequate resourcing
  4. Document control e.g. stakeholder profiles. 

4 Planning the Engagements (When?)

Communications are core to this activity and messages need to be consistent, appropriate in number, focused and brief. The objectives of the communication process are to keep awareness and commitment high, ensure that expectations do not drift out of line with what will be delivered, explain what changes will be made and when, and describe the future end state or vision.

Some tips around this:

  • Send the right message to the right audience in a timely and effective manner.
  • The greater the change, the greater the need for clear communication about the reasons and rationale behind it.
  • Have a communication feedback system to assess the effectiveness of the communications sent.
  • Ensure relevance and recognition and engender trust.
  • Use established key phrases such as “touchstone statements” or “sound bites” as the foundation for communication.

5 Engaging Stakeholders (The Doing)

This could involve stakeholders in early workshops. It is critical at this point to ask the stakeholders and then listen. It is a two-way communication which can involve more subtle and informal means. The programme or project team will often need to influence, lobby, cajole, flatter and subtly apply pressure to stakeholders to maintain momentum.

6 Measuring the Effectiveness (The Results)

It is advisable to sample the stakeholder communities straight from the start. Feedback will reveal under-communication or miscommunication. It will also answer the question if the stakeholders have changed? This question leads back to the first step of the cycle of step 1, Who?

It is important to gather this feedback in person and input it into the relevant healthcheck in order to improve the process cycle, such is its importance.

So, let’s focus all our attention on robust stakeholder engagement since it is vital to get this right.

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