A majority of businesses today are at fault for almost constantly talking about how important it is to engage your stakeholders. There are umpteen presentations and articles that discuss why it is important to engage stakeholders, the myriad of ways to engage your employees, vendors, customer, clients, and so on. While these are relevant discussions, we are still seeing only one side of the coin. When you engage your stakeholders, what’s in it for them?
Let’s consider three significant social dynamics that characterize workplaces today:
1. The most knowledgeable employees in history:
Businesses today are blessed to have access to what many experts consider to be the smartest workforce there ever was. Not only does this generation have the knowledge of past generations, it’s also better educated and has unprecedented access to tools and technology. Advanced software platforms, smartphones, tablets, and even Wi-Fi speeds for that matter make information available at our worker's’ fingertips (figuratively and literally speaking!).
2. There are leaders at every level:
Thanks to both technological advancements and changing workforce expectations; companies are becoming less hierarchical and flat. This has created leaders at almost every organizational level. Employees – entry level to CXOs, share relevant amounts of strategic thinking and execution in their daily work. Today’s workforce is more entrepreneurial by nature and has considerable business acumen, learning quickly about their peers and competitors.
3. More digitally accessible than ever before:
Gartner argued how every employee today is a digital employee. In the same article, Gartner points out that “… personal technology in the workplace is everywhere.” This digitally accessible workforce is hyper-connected, allowing for easy exchange of knowledge.
Now that we understand the three significant social dynamics that characterize today’s workforce, we are better poised to answer the question: “What’s in it for your stakeholders when you engage them?” Below are three factors (guiding tenets if you may) that your stakeholder engagement activities need to revolve around.
1. Stakeholders expect their intelligence to be respected:
We’ve already noted that we are perhaps working with the most knowledgeable workforce in the history of business. While trying to engage this generation of stakeholders, traditional methods of questioning can fall short.Survey fatigue is real, and is becoming a pressing issue that needs resolution for most businesses. Blasting out an automated survey to thousands of stakeholders gives businesses surface level insights, while frustrating respondents. How can such intelligent respondents be satisfied just sharing simple yes or no responses, or by just ranking the importance of an issue?
What stakeholders want is a way to voice their opinions and knowledge – what they really want is a dialogue. Surveys fail to capture this collective knowledge or intelligence. Let’s be honest - Surveys are important only to the person writing them. Next time try sharing an automated interview that gets your stakeholders thinking and sharing deeper insights. Interviews provide engagement and feedback.
2. Stakeholders expect to be a part of decision making:
As stated earlier, your stakeholders are all leaders in their own right. They also have an entrepreneurial streak that needs to be taken into consideration during stakeholder engagements. These stakeholders want to be a part of the decision-making process and affect real change.
This is another area where surveys fall short – it is difficult for businesses to take real action and decisions based on surface-level information. The majority of surveys end up as endless spreadsheets of data that need further processing, analysis, and in many cases, result in the need for further information from stakeholders. This makes the whole engagement process counter-motivational.
So do traditional in-person interviews work here instead? Yes, they do, if you have the money, time, human resources, and energy to interview hundreds or thousands of different stakeholders!
3. Stakeholders want to be a part of your journey:
What people want, is to feel a connection, be a part of a solution, and be a part of a business’s journey. This requires business leaders who will actively listen and are consistent about their stakeholder engagement activities. In order to make stakeholders a part of a business’s journey, leaders must regularly listen, repeat, and act on stakeholder feedback.
Do not just send out an employee engagement survey once a year, or solicit feedback occasionally. Have regular interactions with your stakeholders, listen to what they have to say, communicate what they are sharing in order to understand expectations, and finally act on their insights. Make sure you use the listen, repeat, and act cycle regularly. This whole cycle should be fairly simple to manage since stakeholders are more digitally connected than ever. Again, online interviews as opposed to traditional in-person interviews will work great for this digitally connected workforce, while still saving time and effort for businesses.
On a final note, I urge leaders to try and incentivize feedback where possible in order to increase the level of stakeholder engagement. A part of the incentive can be as simple as thank you note or as powerful as certain stakeholders being attached to something transformative for the company!