Ascentum has worked with a number of stakeholder relations departments, from which we have worked to integrate a focus on stakeholders across an organization. As a ‘cross-cutting theme’ that needs to be incorporated across an organization’s diverse functions and priorities, stakeholder engagement may be sidelined, misunderstood, or resented. But when handled well, integrating stakeholder engagement can transform an organization’s public face, and greatly strengthen the quality of its decisions and actions. So we thought we’d share a few thoughts on where we start when we work with a stakeholder relations division or team to optimize its effectiveness within an organization.
A typical progression inside an organization might include the following phases:
- Ad hoc engagement with stakeholders;
- An increasing commitment to building stakeholder engagement into more and more organizational activities;
- In a larger organization, growing awareness of the need to coordinate stakeholder engagement events and to share content gained;
- Emerging desire to systematize the approach to stakeholder engagement for consistency, and to ensure quality;
- Creation of a stakeholder relations team to serve the organization, often under a communications or corporate affairs umbrella; and,
- Efforts to incorporate stakeholder relations across the organization in an integrated way.
One key to success in integrating stakeholder relations across the organization is to remember that we may and must engage stakeholders at various points throughout our work, not just in the final stages of a decision. For one project, it might be most important to have stakeholders involved throughout the implementation; for another, it might be critical to have that input before the project itself is conceived, when you’re still trying to understand the problem. For another, it might be most useful to have stakeholders participate in the evaluation and refinement of a project.
With this in mind, there are some important questions a stakeholder engagement team can ask itself when it seeks to integrate stakeholder considerations across the organization.
1. What are the organizational processes that already exist, and how can we build a focus on stakeholders into those processes?
Creating new processes is seldom popular, and these are less likely to be adopted. A small section on an existing form or checklist may do more to integrate stakeholder considerations in the organizational mindset than a comprehensive stakeholder binder.
To build stakeholder relations in where it’s appropriate, consider activities in which the organization develops its priorities, planning processes, project or policy design stages, implementation phases, and evaluation mechanisms
2. What services can we offer to support the inclusion of stakeholder considerations in those processes?
A stakeholder engagement team within an organization is a valuable resource for:
- Identifying stakeholders who may be affected by, or have an impact on, an issue – here it can be helpful to use key questions, triggers, reminders, and checklists built into planning processes as noted above.
- Support for engaging stakeholders – helping staff design an appropriate form of consultation, partnership, or other mechanism for stakeholders to be involved.
- Local learning – helping staff to understand, interpret and utilize the input from stakeholders, as well as to evaluate their own engagement practices.
- Training – sharing best practices, concepts, and frameworks to broaden the understanding of stakeholder engagement, encourage innovation, and strengthen the organization’s relationships with stakeholders.
- Knowledge sharing - disseminating the messages gathered from stakeholders so that the whole organization can respond to those concerns and suggestions in a consistent way.
Every organization has its particular challenges, aspirations, and structures when it comes to bringing stakeholder input into its every day work. Let us know if we can help you tackle yours!