We have been getting a lot of feedback from leaders who feel they don’t have a good relationship with their stakeholders. So we’re taking a look at a few strategies and approaches that can help you improve your relationships for better business success.
First things first, let’s look at the definition of a stakeholder, because everyone has a different idea of what it means.
I (Michelle) think about a stakeholder as being any individual or group that has something to win or lose by you being successful or failing in your business. So it's a symbiotic relationship - you being successful works for them, and vice versa; by them being successful, you're successful.
When we think about stakeholders, we call it ‘committed service’. But one of the biggest areas where people go wrong with their stakeholders is assuming.
We’ve heard a lot of clients say, “I’ve got a great relationship with my main stakeholder, we go for coffee all the time”. That’s their definition of a good relationship, but they don’t ever actually ask for feedback from their stakeholders on their team’s performance, whether it be on timeliness or quality.
You might have a very good casual, social relationship, but they key to having a very good, healthy overall relationship with your stakeholder is getting specific feedback. There are a few main areas that are of value to stakeholders that you should concentrate on when asking for feedback, including responsiveness, performance, and reputation.
Think about your current work or project, and brainstorm all of your possible stakeholders other than the people you interact with on a day-to-day basis. How about their boss or leader, or even two up from there? Think outside the box and lift perspective to see the bigger picture.
That’s an area we often coach people in. Some internal teams such as finance teams, may not see the end customer as a potential stakeholder, they may just see the people they deal with everyday. It’s really worthwhile exploring beyond that first degree of separation.
Another common group of people that are often forgotten when thinking about stakeholders are your team. In fact, they are your biggest stakeholders; your success depends on how successful your team is after all.
Since we are the template queens, we have developed another downloadable template to help you map out this process of thinking outside the box and determining your stakeholders following the points below.
First, name all your key stakeholders, and then look at their roles. The thing about identifying just the individuals is that sometimes individuals change, so you might have a great relationship with the manager of the team, but what happens when that manager leaves? You have no relationship with the actual team that does the work.
Next think about what your stakeholders’ biggest issue or concern is. What is the most important thing to them? By knowing that, you can start to identify ways you can support them to be successful. More importantly, have that conversation with them and ask them what their biggest concern is to see if your thoughts align. You might be surprised, so don’t assume.
Work with your team to narrow down what you could do for each key stakeholder. For example, you might have someone who is an expert in PowerPoint or Excel, so you could offer a skilling session with your stakeholder; something that demonstrates your expertise, concern, sharing and collaboration.
You could then take it a step further and rate yourselves for each stakeholder - how well do you already serve them?
Since your relationship with your stakeholders is symbiotic, think about what you want from them. Do you want them to speak out about how well you are performing as a team to other key stakeholders? Or to your manager, etc.? You could also ask for specific feedback on how you could improve. Otherwise you could be thinking you're doing a great job, but unless you ask for that specific feedback, you may be assuming the wrong things.
Now you need to think about how important these stakeholders are to you. Are they high, medium, and low? This gives you some sort of prioritisation so you can identify who your key stakeholders are and who your, perhaps, less important stakeholders are. That then leads you to determine where you would put most of your time, energy and effort.
There is actually a great quote from Warren Buffet that I (Jan) read in a book called ‘The Third Door’ that relates to this: “Success is a result of prioritising your desires”.
This is the key to anything really; get into the habit of prioritising because it will set you up for success in so many other areas too.
Now prioritise each stakeholder’s current level of support for you and your team. Is it high, medium or low? That way, you can take action where you need to.
I (Jan) think this is a really great template to use with the team because it actually opens up and focuses discussion. From there, you need to take action by brainstorming as a team to create a multi-pronged strategy for each stakeholder.
The other thing you might do is share your template findings with your manager, because they might be privy to some information that you may not, and they could help you tweak some of the strategies that you have for dealing with these stakeholder groups.
When approaching your stakeholders to talk about how you can work better together, it doesn’t need to be awkward or difficult. You might say something like, "I've been reflecting on how we can be even more effective in our relationship. Would you be open to giving me some feedback?”
Better still, you could share this template with them to use for their stakeholders, that way you’re adding value for them. That's how you know whether or not you’re being impactful: where are you adding value?
It’s all about identifying your key stakeholders, understanding what they need and reflecting on what they provide for you, and creating strategies to improve your relationship with them.
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