As part of a recent strategy session, I found my client leadership team wrestling with the dilemma of which stakeholders to involve, and to what degree, in getting additional perspective on key decisions and proposed actions. As is the common tendency, they wanted to dive deep into a ‘full on’ consultation with each of their various constituent groups.
However, to get truly meaningful feedback and to engage others in a ‘high value’ format, there’s a distinct need to step back and determine how best to approach the engagement process. Here are five key questions you’ll want to ask to ensure you get the best results:
- Who are our target audiences? As this is the first step in the process, you’ve got to be clear on who you need to engage in terms of information, awareness building, ‘buy in’ and input. With some audiences you’re going to want to go much deeper, getting their best ideas and opinions to shape your work. Be sure to focus on your major ‘players’, your time and budget won’t likely permit the luxury of including all possible stakeholders.
- Why are we conducting the consultation? What do we want to accomplish? Take time to clearly articulate the rationale for reaching out to others, what you hope to meaningfully achieve by engaging your key stakeholders. Are you doing this to build understanding around a particular set of decisions or courses of action? Or do you want your stakeholders to be actively involved in crafting your identity and direction? Of course, the higher the degree of involvement by your target audience the greater the time required to completion.
- What type of consultation best fits our situation? Rather than take a generic approach to your consultation process, identify which level of engagement is required to accomplish the outcomes you’ve articulated. Ideally you should be looking for a very distinctive approach to each of your target audiences. There’s clearly no one right way, it depends on your objectives and target audience as well as other considerations such as time, and available funding. It’s critical that you be clear with your stakeholders which form of engagement that you’re proposing so that expectations can be effectively realized. Here are five levels of engagement around strategy creation and rollout, from limited involvement to virtually complete immersion.
- Telling: here’s what is – this is the way we’re going
- Selling: here’s what is, here’s why it is, here are the benefits
- Testing: here’s what is – what do you think?
- Consulting: here’s what is – what should be changed or modified?
- Co-creating: let’s work together to create what’s needed
(adapted from Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline Fieldbook)
- What are our key messages? If you want others to get ‘on board’ with a new way forward, you’ll need to determine the key essence of your message for each target audience without adding any additional ‘baggage’ that might hinder clarity and understanding. Spending time checking with representative stakeholders about how messages are perceived is a good idea prior to using them with wider audiences.
- What logistics must we consider? While your consultation design is important to success of your strategy formulation, don’t forget that its success relies on connecting with your target audiences in a meaningful way. You’ll want to determine key logistics including your delivery approach (e.g. in-person, social media), who’s actually going to be leading the consultation process, appropriate timing and how you’re going to collect and document participant perspectives and feedback.
Getting key stakeholders ‘on board’ with your strategic direction is critical to success, so give some thoughtful consideration regarding the best way to engage them. You’ll be way further ahead when it comes to successful implementation and rollout.