Experts typically have a complex role – involving liaising with and attending to the needs of a wide variety of stakeholders. Due to the nature of their specialisms, they rarely have their own staff or people they can depend upon to address their requirements. They almost always have a significant number of stakeholders to attend to – requesting services (sometimes on behalf of other stakeholders), people to influence, collaborate with, etc. When we ask participants to map all of the stakeholders, it is common that they have a key stake in the success of as many as 80 or more relationships within the organisation. Whose needs amongst them should take precedence over others? Will lower priority stakeholders cheerfully accept that their requirements are further down the queue? How much access to important stakeholders does an expert typically get? How clearly and explicitly defined are each stakeholder’s felt needs. Since most experts lack formal authority to oblige others to act, they need to master the art of influencing stakeholders. But, for want of any development in this complex – and often “grey” – area, experts routinely discover that they have failed to adequately engage one or more pivotal stakeholders – and this adversely impacts the (perceived) quality of their deliverables and/or the necessary support and funding for their proposals and initiatives.
In this pod session, your team member discussed and explored with their fellow podsters:
Why stakeholder engagement is especially relevant to people in expert roles. How to prioritise stakeholders. What good versus poor engagement looks like
Participants identify their entire eco-system of stakeholders via a mapping exercise
Participants explore networking goals and strategies
They then conduct “health checks” on their key stakeholder relationships. How well understood and aligned are each of their purposes, non-negotiables (deal-breakers, derailers), measures of success, priorities, styles, trust expectations, etc. For each key stakeholder relationship they will shape a plan to optimise their engagement with/from that stakeholder.
Often the stakeholders who consume most of the expert’s time are not necessarily their most important stakeholders. They can busy all day responding to the requests of people of lesser significance whilst having little or no time for the most critical stakeholders. It’s vital that each expert determine – with the assistance of their manager – which stakeholders they should focus their energy on. It’s just not possible to give everybody equal attention. There’s every likelihood that some of the most important stakeholders are people that the expert may have to proactively reach out to – rather than relying on passively servicing such stakeholders’ inbound requests.
Engaging stakeholders is an art that needs careful consideration. In using the word “engagement”, we’re intending to mean far more than mere “contact”. An engaged stakeholder is someone who displays a positive disposition towards the expert and the expert’s work, their outputs, their needs, etc. An engaged stakeholder prioritises time with the expert, places a high value on their inputs or advice, supports their initiatives, etc. An under engaged or actively disengaged stakeholder at best is indifferent towards the expert and their initiatives, places a low value on their perspectives and inputs and might even become hostile or oppositional if they perceive that the expert’s agenda is in some sort of conflict with their own. Engagement is not something that can be taken for granted but must be actively and regularly worked at.
One of the key tools that we introduce to experts in this module is the stakeholder health check which invites the expert to consider a number of different factors which can guide their approach to pursuing optimal engagement with each key stakeholder – such as what does that stakeholder value, what are their priorities, measures of success, derailers, felt needs and so on. Naturally the more that experts can align their engagement strategies with the insights arising from such analysis, the greater likelihood they will have in setting up a mutually rewarding relationship with the stakeholders in question.
Networking needn’t be scary or problematic. Often “paying it forward” – figuring how to add value to people without any expectation of return – makes networking feel much more like a value added experience to all parties.