How to improve stakeholder engagement in a pandemic

How to improve stakeholder engagement in a pandemic

Stakeholder engagement – as any accomplished project manager knows – is critical to successful organizational change.

But, at a time of pandemic when people’s working lives have altered significantly, how does engaging with stakeholders have to change?

Before considering that, we should remember what PRINCE2® says about communicating with internal and external stakeholders and the particular processes to be effective:

  • Identifying stakeholders: who is involved in or affected by a project?
  • Creating and analyzing stakeholder profiles: knowing who is important, their influences and interests and how you need to engage with them has a direct impact on the outcome of the project
  • Defining objectives: understanding how delivering important messages will support your objectives
  • Defining the stakeholder engagement approach: deciding the types of information needed and mode of communication used
  • Planning and delivering the engagement activity

This approach constitutes best practice or – maybe – best practice in previously normal times!

Then, at the point of delivery, you may have done a workshop or face-to-face presentation. Today, that will happen virtually via something like Zoom or MS Teams. By now, many of us are familiar with these methods, so what could possibly go wrong?

Stakeholder engagement in Zoom-land

Picture the scene – and I’ll bet it won’t be difficult for most of you:

The executive of the project starts a virtual meeting, with important messages to convey, when…

  • The executive gets distracted by the cat climbing onto the keyboard; the slides advance and people miss important messages
  • Someone mutes their microphone because the dog’s barking and it’s easier to remain muted than express an opinion
  • Another person’s child suddenly demands help with home schooling or sticks their fingers together while doing arts and crafts
  • Wi-fi has dropped out continually for someone else and they miss all the critical points
  • Oh, there goes the doorbell for yet another parcel delivery…

Meanwhile, the project manager – not entirely aware of all these issues going on in “Zoom-land” – trusts that everyone has received and understood the messages.

Don’t fool yourself that this is stakeholder engagement. It’s more like stakeholder bemusement.

So, what can you do to ensure successful stakeholder engagement amid all these communications challenges?

Measuring results post-engagement

Following your online meetings, it’s good practice to distribute a survey to measure the results. You should include questions such as:

  1. How much of the session did you manage to attend and participate in?
  2. How effective was the session in getting the key messages across?
  3. What were the key messages?
  4. What do you need to do next as a result of this session?
  5. What could we do to improve communication next time?

Based on stakeholder feedback, it should become clear exactly what they know and what they don’t know. Therefore, it might mean sharing a written summary of the meeting, bringing out the key points and seeking further feedback.

And, for future meetings, it is probably useful to make any presentation slides or other information available in advance, as well as delivering a meeting summary immediately afterwards.

Best practice stakeholder engagement as outlined in PRINCE2 remains the benchmark for communicating effectively with key audiences during a project. However, in a more virtual world, with people’s home lives intruding on the day job, you can’t leave stakeholder understanding to chance.

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Comments

8 Feb 2021 Maria Köllerström
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I was thinking also to make sure you engage the "zoomers" in the presentation can be a good way to make a message stick.

Also to add some humor in it. Maybe a funny scenario describing what could go wrong, if not paying enough attention, to the main goal/message.
26 Feb 2021 Fernanda Longo
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This was a really useful article in a time that we are working 100% remotely.
23 Mar 2021 Md Shahzaman Hossain
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Definitely, it is a nice article regarding stakeholder engagement remotely. However, the followings actions may also add value to avoid noise during virtual meeting stakeholders and make meeting effective.

1. Communicate a general guideline of do’s and don’ts virtual meeting.
2. Ensure control of microphone during virtual meeting.
3. May ask for opinion and feedback after communicating important messages.
4. Definitely share the summary of the virtual meeting within the possible shortest period of time
5. May request for the feedback on summary and any suggestion for the future meeting.
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