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By Brad Addison and Adrian Ryan - CoFactor Managing Partners

How well do you really know your key stakeholders - the individuals and groups who can  and will affect the future of your business and your company’s reputation? 

All businesses and organisations must regularly engage people and groups, and  communicate with them to achieve their objectives. Many underestimate the importance of -  or don’t prioritise - effective stakeholder engagement.

Smart businesses recognise the need to be in tune with the perceptions and attitudes of  those who shape and influence their successes or failures and impact their reputation. They  identify and cultivate a broad network of decision makers, influencers and other opinion  leaders to build relationships and ensure the company’s key messages are being heard. 

Regular engagement builds trust and reputation and helps identify opportunities and risks.  Crucially, it enables businesses to better manage stakeholder expectations, revealing  information critical to company decision making. 

Stakeholder engagement can, and often should be, a very detailed exercise. For critical  projects, be it influencing an important outcome or managing a reputation issue, a thorough  stakeholder engagement plan is a must. Here’s some tips to get you thinking about how you  can engage with your stakeholders to reap the benefits it brings.

Tips for successful engagement

  1. Know who you’re talking to

    Start with a simple exercise of identifying all your stakeholders - the people, groups, or organizations who could affect your business - and narrow that down to those most influential. Consider employees, customers, shareholders, influencers, industry bodies, suppliers, regulators and the community.

  2. Build relationships early

    Relationship-building takes time. The earlier you start, the quicker you’ll gain credibility prior to progressing opportunities or managing issues or conflicts. Where possible, face-to-face is best, but where this isn’t possible or practical use whatever means available to you - whether that’s a phone call, video conference or email.

  3. Find common ground

    Really get to know your stakeholders. Connect with them on a personal level, picking up on clues as to their hobbies or interests. This will build a solid grounding. Ask thoughtful, probing questions to gain insight and garner ideas. Learn their needs, motivations, and values and show a sincere interest and commitment to what matters to them.

  4. Actively listen

    It’s important to take time to outline your priorities. Equally, ensure you’re truly hearing what your stakeholders are saying. Listening properly will help them feel that you’re really attuned to their needs. This benefits you too. Learning what conversations are occurring about your business or industry is key to picking up  on opportunities and managing risks and reputation. 

  5. Respond to feedback

    People want to know their contributions are valued. Respond to the information and feedback gained through your exchanges by looping back to your stakeholder with any actions taken.

  6. Play the long game

    Engage often.​ ​Consistent engagement, communication and action over time builds trust. And where there is trust, people work together better and create greater value, helping you achieve your objectives.

  7. Get expert support

    Stakeholder engagement requires investment and effort. You have to get out there and do it. But having a thorough, coordinated plan with practical actions is key to making it a sustainable exercise.

Interested to learn more?

CoFactor helps businesses identify and map their stakeholders to determine those most influential to the company's strategic priorities. We provide targeted, effective engagement plans for you and your team and guide leaders to integrate stakeholder insights into company decisions and actions.