How To Take Care Of Your Customers and Stakeholders In Your Planning Process

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

Customer/Stakeholder Engagement Plan People Leaders

At the beginning of the year, our clients all share a keen interest in putting their plans into place, identifying objectives and rolling out the strategic plan. One of the key steps in this strategic planning process is a stakeholder analysis. In this post (and this podcast), we're going to step you through a very simple - yet very effective - customer/stakeholder engagement plan. We’ve also created a template to guide you through this process. You’ll be able to quickly identify your key stakeholders and how they may impact the outcomes you’re looking to bring about. We’ll also help you focus on how to influence and communicate successfully with each type of stakeholder so you can generate the best results.

Step #1 - Who are your stakeholders? 

A stakeholder is anyone who stands to be affected by the work you do and/or the things you produce. It’s someone who has something to win or lose by you being successful; someone with an interest in your success.

With that in mind, have a think about who your key stakeholders are both from an internal and external perspective. External stakeholders might be shareholders, government, the press, the community, or your suppliers for example. Internal stakeholders can be your boss, your executives, your team and your co-workers. Even your family members can be key stakeholders because they have something to win or lose by you being successful too.

Step #2 - Identify individual external stakeholders

The next step is to list the external stakeholders in your business or your business unit and identify their role. It’s important to reference an ‘actual’ person here because though you might consider your stakeholder to be ‘government’, you don't actually engage with the government itself, you engage with a ‘person’ in the government. Identifying the person is important, since personnel often change.

Step #3 - Identify the stakeholder’s role

Describe the role of the stakeholder in their own organisation. The more information you have, the better.

Step #4 - Identify the stakeholder’s impact on your business, project or endeavour

Ask yourself whether the stakeholder has a high, medium or low impact on your business, project or endeavour. (You can use whatever scale you want, but it’s best to keep it simple.)

Step #5 - Describe the type of relationship you currently have with the stakeholder 

Focusing on three stakeholders, think about where they fit in this relationship scale.

The advocate stakeholder:

You might consider your stakeholder an advocate. This is a strong relationship where they are readily accessible when you need them and they look out for you.

The familiar/neutral stakeholder:

The stakeholder may be familiar or simply have a neutral opinion of you. This is where they're open to listening to you, but they don’t necessarily take action readily. These are the stakeholders who prefer suggestions to be brought to them. They tend to stay removed from the real decision-making process until you perhaps push them into an advocate role.

The reserved/cautious stakeholder:

These are the stakeholders who aren't readily available or accessible to you or your organisation when you need them. The relationship is tentative. They're not convinced you’re the best option for them. These are the stakeholders you really have to win over.

The blocker stakeholder:

Blockers are the stakeholders you have a poor relationship with. They lack confidence in you and your team and seldom give you access to others in their team. They may even be considered an opponent. You may feel like you don’t want to deal with a blocker, but they might have a high impact on the success of your venture or team or on rolling out a particular objective. Ideally, you want to move the blockers up the scale to reserved, then to familiar, then to neutral. And that's what the next part of the activity is all about.

Building external stakeholder relationships 

So, you’ve identified your key external stakeholders together with their role and impact (which we can assume is high since you’ve put them in this plan). If you've got an advocate, that’s fantastic because you're going to leverage this to the hilt. However, remember the law of reciprocity. If you’re continually taking from your advocate, the scale starts to tip - and not in your favour! Ideally, you should keep the advocate informed and share information that’s important to their role. Continue to support them, understand what motivates them, what their interests are, and what their current opinion is of your work.

The influence of your stakeholder in the organisation is going to be very important for you, so ask them regularly how you're doing. At the same time, feed them with information you know will support them in their own success. It's fairly easy to leverage the role of an advocate - but don't take your advocates for granted. Feed them as much love, attention, and information as makes sense to you and to them.

When it comes to high impact blockers, ideally, you want to move them to at least being reserved or neutral about you. A useful strategy is to identify who else in their organisation you have a relationship with, so that you can find out why the blocker sees you as not being advantageous to them or their organisation. Do they think you and/or your team won’t bring the competence they need? Have they heard something about you? Find out as much information as you can.

If you don't have anyone you can go to in the blocker’s organisation, go straight to the blocker themselves. Find out what information would support them in their role. Discover what motivates them. Think about ways you could turn them around so you can manage this opposition they have for you in a better way. Is there someone who influences their opinions who you already have a relationship with? Identify the things they like and are interested in and propose something. Give them some information but don't expect anything back. You might also consider whether perhaps someone else in your team might be the right person to foster a better relationship with them.

Building internal stakeholder relationships

The same process applies to your internal stakeholders. Identify the top 3-5 people most important to you and your team's success. Note their role and the impact they have: Is it high, medium or low? If they have a low impact on you, ask yourself why they are an important stakeholder to you. Perhaps they influence somebody else who has a high impact or a high degree of power in the organisation.

What type of relationship do you have with them? Are they an advocate? Are they neutral? Are they cautious? Or are they a blocker? What are some of the activities you could use to move somebody who is reserved or cautious about you, up the scale to be either familiar or neutral, or even better still, an advocate? Are they likely to be positive about things you propose, given the nature of the work that they do, or their areas of interest? Find out as much information as you can. People really do appreciate it when you take an interest in them.

Conclusion - take an interest in your stakeholder’s success, and they’ll take an interest in yours

The idea is to keep your stakeholders satisfied and informed, managing closely those who have a high impact and are neutral towards you, finding out what they're interested in, what they're working on, and giving them as much information as you can, when you can.

Check out the useful template we’ve created to help you with this process. Work with your team on the identifying activities and come back to your stakeholder engagement plan and template every six weeks or so, to check in and see how you're tracking. And please, let us know how you go.

How To Take Care Of Your Customers and Stakeholders In Your Planning Process

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