Managing stakeholders effectively!
Posted Sunday 30th January, 2011
Across Government stakeholders matter for what they can do and the influence they exert or withhold. By stakeholders, I mean delivery partners, regulatory bodies, parliamentarians, interest groups, and the media and so on. They can be both powerful advocates and outspoken critics, although these relationships are not mutually exclusive. The knowledge and expertise stakeholders bring to the table can be invaluable when formulating policy or contemplating a delivery strategy. On the other hand they can stop policy makers in their tracks or at the very least make progress difficult. This piece looks at how Government departments can keep their finger on the pulse by working effectively with stakeholders and make use of technology to build better relationships by forewarned on their opinions, attitudes and behaviours?
Stakeholder engagement is not a synonym for getting what you want when you want it? Annual stakeholder surveys can no longer be seen as a tick box exercise given they are costly, time consuming and with several Government departments speaking to the same stakeholders. Rather, stakeholder engagement involves a genuine two way exchange of information where areas of mutual interest and concern are identified, where possible common objectives and co-ordinated actions are agreed and where necessary, compromises are reached. Effective stakeholder engagement is much more than a single event or activity. It goes without saying that it requires investment of time and effort to develop strong and enduring relationships. However, the return on that investment can help the development of robust policies supported by key stakeholders and often delivered by them on behalf of Government. With Whitehall spending under the microscope, getting it right first time, the role stakeholders can play in reaching targeted audiences is critical and the work of stakeholder managers has become ever more important.
Most Government departments' have a stakeholder strategy in place which is either delivered from the centre by corporate communications or embedded within policy units and in some cases a combination of both with the centre empowering stakeholder managers by developing and supporting their expertise. Often resources to deliver a comprehensive stakeholder strategy are scarce and in the current climate we need to be better equipped.
An integrated joined up approach to stakeholder management is essential. Quite often stakeholders meet regularly with officials from different directorates from the same Government department. Unless knowledge is actively shared between officials this can cause embarrassment affecting the reputation of the Government department!
For greater effectiveness departments need to manage and share stakeholder information to help officials have the right information about the right stakeholder at the right time and place. Stakeholder management plays a pivotal role in enhancing departmental reputation and if not handled properly, it can be affected in minutes.
Having the right tools of the trade to support effective stakeholder relationships is essential. Of greater importance is changing behaviour and embracing new ways to use toolkits such as profiling, mapping, planning, sentiment analysing, interest tracking, landscaping and an online solution to host a one-stop-shop solution for stakeholder management storing accurate stakeholder intelligence which can be shared across the department. Use of online solutions is generally viewed suspiciously by Government departments partially to do with not understanding the power of it (lack of knowledge) and labelling it as another IT tool. Some just don't accept is part of the departments' corporate culture. Some find it a challenging task to embrace change and adjust behaviour to work in new ways.
The private sector has embraced technology since its infancy to manage and analyse consumer intelligence. Have you ever wondered how Tesco's loyalty club card works? You purchase products and discounts are offered based on your purchasing trends. Or if you buy books on Amazon and based on your interests you receive viral marketing campaigns based on your interests! The world of digital engagement and thematic analysis of consumer behaviour also enables Government departments to exploit such technologies to work better with stakeholders. Integration of a tactical and strategic stakeholder activity offers a well rounded and executed stakeholder strategy for any Government department. Usually, it's tactical or strategic but rarely together nor supported by an online solution. A fully integrated stakeholder strategy underpinned by an online solution enables Government departments to reap the benefits of embedding communications into policy making early and help officials make informed choices on how best to manage stakeholders.
There is more to online solutions than just analysing behaviour to inform policy development! If implemented properly, online stakeholder solutions can help Government departments share, send and monitor stakeholder information in a co-ordinated way across the department. It will help eradicate silo based stakeholder management practices and create new ways of working by storing critical stakeholder information in a central location in real-time. Have you ever wondered how many spreadsheets containing stakeholder details exists within a Government department across X many floors which are also likely to be out of date? Accepting this fact may take time to digest with certain decision makers in Government departments and I also believe this transition will take some time. There are endless list of questions opening up a much wider debate -How many staff days are actually spent collating stakeholder lists? How many times the task is being duplicated in one Government department alone? How much is being spent on print publications? How much is spent on sending publications out in post? How often is information gathered on understanding how stakeholders wish to receive communications from a Government department or do we just send information into a black hole?
Government departments need to understand legitimate stakeholder concerns more fully so that they can work with them on a one-to-one basis and develop policies that don't fall at the first hurdle because they don't have stakeholder support.
But it is imperative that Government departments have accurate information to engage the right stakeholder relevant to policy area or business. Gathering accurate stakeholder lists can be a nightmare for staff in Government departments. For example private offices regularly need to invite stakeholders for briefings with their Ministers or at annual receptions. But they spend an awful lot of time collating and cross referencing duplicate lists only to be challenged by a business area or corporate communications - which often creates confusion! Some online solutions maintain accurate contact details by inviting stakeholders to update details on a secure and separate platform providing instant and accurate access to stakeholder details. This allows for staff to be deployed on activities to develop relationships rather than performing back office functions. Management of stakeholder relationships becomes efficient without duplicating contact, viewing who is talking to whom, what about and communicate with thousands of stakeholders at a click of a button. Knowledge of stakeholder relationship is also improved with accountability of relationships segmented by business groups, ministerial relations, communication and policy officials. Critically, stakeholder relationships become ever more transparent for those who would like to view who else is working with their stakeholders so the approach from Government departments can be better co-ordinated.
Besides technology, the role of 'stakeholder managers' is to broker quick referrals to other parts of the department by embedding stakeholder management into the quarterly corporate balance scorecards, policy development frameworks and human resources to ensure stakeholder work dovetails into staff annual appraisals. This creates accountability and transparency at the top and bottom of Government departments which contributes to an all round integrated stakeholder management approach.
There are a handful of Government departments that have mastered the act of integrated stakeholder management and for some it's still a dream.
To discuss your requirements contact Ahmer Kunwar at Kommunic8 by email on:
or call 07919 848 065
This article was posted on Sunday 30th January, 2011.
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