It’s important to build stakeholder relationships quickly, as this gives everyone time to get to know one another.
Robert Stake (yes, great that his name mirrors his interest in stakeholders) has made it part of his life’s work to understand stakeholder relationships. He has developed an approach called “Responsive Evaluation”. It does what it says: the approach shows how to respond to stakeholder needs and wants, motivating them to engage with you.
I find the best way to explain this to stakeholders is to tell a story about the journey and the changes that will result. Do this in a way that makes it easy for the stakeholder to grasp. Good approaches include:
- Create understanding. Link relationships about your change and planned business value
- Enhance links using holistic information: be descriptive, say how. Also, provide process information
- Acknowledge the personal and political aspects of decision-making
- Shape data into information rather than just collect reams of data
You also need to scout out the organisation by asking good questions, such as: who is in a decision-making role? Why are your changes important to them? What values, biases or experiences may influence judgements about changes?
Also, find out what your stakeholders want to know? What questions do they have about your changes? How are they going to use the information they receive? What decisions may be coming up around your changes.
You need to help your stakeholders focus on the important questions their people have. Surveys, for example, give a good overview and also provide a baseline for plotting progress, with the aid of repeat survey activity.
Focus groups and interviews are also useful as they provide detail about emotional states. Best of all, they can reveal people’s “lived experience” stories. Stakeholders can use these stories to act on expressed feelings.
However, activities need to be proportional to the change; one size does not fit all. But remind your stakeholders that people’s beliefs and values are more affected by metaphors, stories and anecdotes than they ever are by statistics.