Understanding your stakeholders is vital in modern-day business. This includes listening to the views and beliefs of stakeholders as well as seeking their feedback. After all, these are the people who will shape and influence future successes (or failures).
A stakeholder is anyone with an interest in the business, either having an effect on the business or being affected by it. Typically, stakeholders can be categorized into two groups; internal and external stakeholders. Examples of internal stakeholders are employees, managers and directors. External stakeholders include customers, suppliers, shareholders and funders. Keeping every stakeholder on-side can be difficult, but can be hugely beneficial.
What is it?
The key to keeping stakeholders on-side is consultation. This involves the development of constructive and productive long-term relationships. Stakeholder consultation aims to build relationships based on mutual trust and benefits. Listening to and understanding the views and feedback from stakeholders can help shape and improve the overall operations of a business.
Stakeholder consultation can be project-based or on-going. Specific project-based consultation is generally used for the development of new products and services. For example, a company may consult with customers to establish specific needs of the target market. On-going consultation, however, is generally used to track the progress of a company in regards to stakeholder expectations and to maximize buy-in. For example, a company may consult with stakeholders regarding changes to the company’s direction or its branding.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of stakeholder consultation are clear, with some of the most significant reasons listed below:
- Enable more informed decision making
- Lead to greater stakeholder satisfaction
- Improves chances of project/initiative success
- Promote open, two-way communication
The 4-step process
The stakeholder consultation process is an opportunity for key groups to be kept informed, and for their views and feedback to be heard. It is important that any consultation is thoroughly planned with clear objectives set at the beginning.
Regardless of the aims and objectives of the stakeholder consultation, the process typically consists of four steps: Planning, Process, Presentation and Promise (the 4Ps).
The “planning” stage is where the aims and objectives of the stakeholder consultation are discussed and agreed upon. After the aims and objectives have been determined, the “planning” stage is used to discuss how the process will be carried out. Process owners allocate resources and select an appropriate consultation method. Several questions need to be asked at this stage to ensure every facet of the process is considered.
- Why do we need to consult?
- Who are we consulting?
- What resources do we have?
- How are we going to do it?
- What materials will be needed?
The “process” stage is where the stakeholder consultation is actually carried out. It is important at this stage to develop effective two-way communication with the stakeholders in order to promote open and honest sharing of views and beliefs. The process and data will then need to be accurately recorded for the final stages.
The “presentation” stage is where the data gathered is analyzed and reported on. The aims of this stage are to ensure the data is an accurate representation of the stakeholder views, and to prepare the report ready for presentation. The report is typically presented to the process owners, such as the company itself or policy makers. However, feedback will also be provided to those who took part in the process.
Lastly, the “promise” stage is where actions are put in place in response to the information gathered. The ‘promise’ of action on the back of the stakeholder consultation process helps drive the development of a long-term relationship based on transparency and collaboration.
How is it done?
Methods of stakeholder consultation are largely the same as those used for market research. The key question is whether the consultation requires depth of knowledge or breadth of knowledge. The answer generally determines which method will be chosen.
If depth of knowledge is required, a qualitative study is usually appropriate. These are studies which encourage open styles of discussion and debate. The most common methods used to gather depth of information are focus groups, individual depth interviews and observation (or ethnography). If breadth of knowledge is required, a more quantitative study is usually appropriate. These are studies which encompass large number of respondents but are restricted to closed style questions, aimed at providing generalist viewpoints. The most common methods used to gather breadth of information are online surveys, telephone surveys, and short street interviews.
As understanding stakeholders becomes more and more important for businesses, stakeholder consultation will become a vital process to maximize success. Stakeholder consultation can be used to evaluate reactions and to track the perceptions of a company’s activities, and ensure collaboration and partnership with all stakeholders. The long-term effectiveness of an organization can depend on its relationships with stakeholders, ensuring commitment and buy-in to any future strategies and challenges. This makes for a more informed organization that is responsive to the needs of all its users and stakeholders.