It is no secret that aligning interests and maintaining strong communication between stakeholders in different departments or organizations is a challenging, but crucial, task. In our 2020 State of Government Relations Report, 80 percent of you said working with external stakeholders was essential to achieving your team’s goals. Stakeholders are the people or organizations that either affect your organization’s work or are affected by it — and they are a vital component of the success or failure of your efforts.
No matter if you are a Fortune 500 corporation, nonprofit organization, or trade group, one single organization can have countless stakeholders. More often than not, stakeholders will have wildly different goals and needs. Making sure you’re on top of those while firmly positioning your own agenda is at the core of your work as government affairs and advocacy professionals.
Stakeholder management is how you engage, influence, and keep track of that network of people and organizations to get your issues over the line. Below are eight tips for how to manage multiple stakeholders.
1. Identify All Stakeholders
The first step to effectively manage multiple stakeholders might seem obvious but it is often too quickly dismissed. Identifying and mapping who your stakeholders are and what role they play in your overall objective is a process.
To start, create an initial list of internal and external stakeholders; then, it’s time to branch out. Be it members, customers, C-suite executives, or legislators, each stakeholder on your list will have stakeholders of their own that influence them when making decisions. Analyzing and visually mapping these relationships is how you start building your stakeholder network.
Of course, identifying your stakeholders’ stakeholders can create a snowball effect but “it's better to include more groups and people than fewer because later you can sort them out and you can see where the real boundary should be. If you don't include enough at the beginning, you might miss where the real boundary is,” says Robert Boutilier, an associate of the Centre for Sustainable Community Development at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and president of social research consultancy Stakeholder 360.
A stakeholder management platform can help you identify and map stakeholders you might not be familiar with but should be included in your network. FiscalNote has information on more than 100,000 contacts at the state, federal, and global policy-making level, with complete profiles that include biographies, social media profiles, phone numbers, email, and addresses.
Once you have created your stakeholder network map and defined your influence boundary, you can then more effectively keep track of, engage with, and manage your stakeholders.
2. Determine Stakeholder Interests
After you have identified every person and organization that influences or is influenced by your goals, it is important to understand each stakeholder’s interests and goals. To do this, you need to be able to answer three questions for each stakeholder, according to Boutilier.
Are they supportive of your activities/goals?
This will gauge the social license, which Boutilier defines as the degree of social acceptability of your organization and its activities.
What are their issues, concerns, and priorities?
These will overlap and sometimes be embedded within each other. “This can get complicated but you have to think hierarchically about what concerns are telling you because some of these are going to be connected through a higher-level narrative about what the issue is,” says Boutilier.
What are their relationships with other stakeholders?
Here’s where you get into stakeholder network analysis. When you understand what relationships your stakeholders have, and how collaborative those relationships are, you can truly start drawing your stakeholder network map and potentially identifying your grasstops.
“The relationships can have different levels of strength — they can be positive or negative. And you can analyze these, to gauge who's on the periphery and who's at the core [of your stakeholder map],” says Boutilier. Analyzing which stakeholders have the greatest number of connections and identifying those who are “well connected” or more influential will help you narrow down and draw your boundary.
Using a stakeholder management tool allows you to label and group stakeholders by interests and track their activity with your organization, as well as with key legislation.
3. Manage Conflicts of Interest
As you prioritize and reconcile your goals with your stakeholders’ interests and needs, inevitably, conflicts of interest might arise. R. Edward Freeman, professor and an academic director of the Institute for Business in Society at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, urges us to look for the interconnection between stakeholders or, as Boutilier also explained it, the common narrative, to find creative solutions and strategies.
“Where there's a conflict, oftentimes what you have to do is use your imagination to dissolve the conflict,” Freeman says. “You can't always find a no trade-off [solution]. But it is true if you don't look for it, you won't find it.”
Either with or without a trade-off, managing multiple stakeholders means being able to bring together stakeholders who may have competing interests at times, to accomplish an objective. “You have to harmonize their interest,” Freeman says. “In music, the notes are different, but they sound good together.” And this is accomplished by understanding your stakeholders’ goals, effectively communicating the importance of the overall objectives, and helping find acceptable compromises.
FiscalNote’s tools allow you to be one step ahead and predict as much as possible any conflicts before they even become a contention point. This allows you to better manage your stakeholders and proactively create strategies that address conflicts from the get-go.
4. Prioritize Outcomes
Your issues or campaigns are connected to implementing some elements of organizational strategy. According to Stephen Townsend, networks engagement facilitator at the Project Management Institute, they usually fall into three categories:
- Changing the business: these are strategic initiatives for developing new products or services, or you're looking at some significant business change or transformation.
- Running the business: these are business needs such as new or improved capabilities, new technology changes, etc.
- Innovating the business: these are serving your customers or members and meeting their needs. You're looking at things that are going to exceed their expectation, make it easier for them to get access to what they need, or perhaps even provide what they are looking for.
Understanding where your issue fits in, together with your stakeholders’ goals and priorities, will help you prioritize the outcomes and get buy-in.
Using an issues management solution allows you to find, organize, and manage all the information you need and all of your stakeholders in one place to help you better prioritize your outcomes and deliver on your objectives.
5. Organize Communication
To create a communications plan that maximizes engagement and results, you must first understand and outline what your stakeholders’ preferred communication channels are. Reaching people where they are at the right time plays an important part in a successful communications plan, as described in our FiscalNote 2020 Advocacy Benchmark Report.
To organize your stakeholder communications plan you must consider:
Be it email, social media, phone or video calls, in-person meetings, or even traditional mail, your strategy must account for how stakeholders best communicate with you and each other. Make it easy for them to engage and collaborate to further your goals.
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Another very important aspect to consider is when to communicate with your various stakeholders. Perhaps for your internal stakeholders, business hours might work well, but for your supporters, the weekends might be a better time to engage with your messages. Be mindful of your stakeholders’ preferences.
A good communications plan is set out in advance to be as effective as possible and to stay top of mind. Your strategy should include not only urgent and action-oriented communications but also informative and insightful messages that can foster a deeper connection between your stakeholders and your goals.
Try planning ahead and capitalizing on dates of interest for certain stakeholders or for your organization. If you are dealing with, for example, environment-focused stakeholders, make sure to have communications around dates such as Earth Day to keep your issues and your organization top of mind.
For internal stakeholders, try recurrent email updates or in-person meetings to celebrate progress and discuss challenges. Externally, email and social media came out on top in our 2020 Advocacy Benchmark Report.
Conduct an audit of what content and materials you already have and what you will need to create to support your communications plan. Check your library to find materials from previous campaigns that you can reuse or upgrade without having to start from scratch.
Test and Measure Results
Make sure you measure how your stakeholders are engaging with your messages and optimize your communications plan as you go. Try different subject lines for emails or images on social media to see what resonates best with your stakeholders and do more of that.
Check your assumptions and notice any trends in how your stakeholders are engaging with your messages. Technology evolves quickly and new platforms surface almost every year, your stakeholders might move from one channel to another. It is important that you stay current and top of mind.
FiscalNote’s solutions allow you to track engagement metrics by channel, issue, or geography, helping you determine the effectiveness and final outcomes of your engagement strategies.
6. Establish Reporting Methods
Managing multiple stakeholders requires regular updates on where each party stands on the different parts of the campaign. You must keep track of your timeline and progress, important documents, meeting notes, and stakeholder touchpoints to make sure things are going according to plan and you’re able to quickly respond to any unexpected turns.
Using a stakeholder management solution makes reporting on your progress and results easy to show the success and ROI of your government relations or advocacy work. This is naturally important for your internal stakeholders but is also valuable to communicate to external stakeholders as part of your communications strategy. Keeping all stakeholders abreast of your progress can help make them feel more connected with your issue and increase their engagement.
7. Be Adaptable
“Focusing on outcomes rather than deliverables can create space for exploring multiple alternatives,” says Townsend. “This can lead to finding solutions more strongly aligned with outcomes.”
Managing multiple stakeholders means a lot of variables are always at play. Unexpected issues often arise and even the best-laid plans can change.
From a vote moved up on the legislative calendar to an internal organizational change, a strong stakeholder management strategy must involve the flexibility to address issues and make adjustments as they arise. While, at the same time, continuing to steer the course and point toward the ultimate objective.
This is why a stakeholder management solution is an essential part of the government relations and advocacy professional’s toolbox. Being able to set up alerts and stay on top of the progress on your issues, the latest communications with your stakeholders, and your stakeholder network as a whole, allows you to be able to quickly pivot and strategize a new action plan to respond to any unforeseen situation.
8. Use a Stakeholder Management Platform
Tracking communication and issues for multiple stakeholders requires a comprehensive stakeholder management platform. FiscalNote’s solutions help public affairs professionals engage and manage stakeholders to accomplish their organizational goals.
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