Using digital tools for stakeholder management

Using digital tools for stakeholder management

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During the stakeholder management process, each stakeholder you encounter has a favourite way of communicating. If they want the latest news, they have a communications channel for that. If they are doing research, they have a source of information for that.

We are talking about everyday channels like email, blogs, RSS feeds, press releases on your corporate or agency website, internal project reports, social media, links to favourite articles and online discussion forums where your project team fields questions and responds to them in near real time.

Digital tools will help remove the monotonous, repetitive communications that are often synonymous with stakeholder management. The tools will automate many of the processes you lay out in your initial communication plan.

There are differences in what channels and what digital tools you use on each channel. You must treat your stakeholder group as a unique audience with personalised needs and desires.

The audience is small enough that you can entertain some targeted channels and tools that fit their business lifestyle while still allowing you the flexibility to automate as much as possible to make life easier for you as well.

Updating stakeholders

There are essentially three levels of engagement with stakeholders – informing, consulting and collaborating.

What is the difference between keeping a stakeholder informed as opposed to consulting with them or even collaborating with them? The difference is the level of engagement required to do each one effectively so that you meet the expectations of each and every stakeholder.

Your tools for stakeholder management must provide the ability to ramp up your level of engagement as appropriate to which quadrant the stakeholder occupies on your stakeholder engagement grid.

Low-Interest/Low-Influence stakeholders are the group that needs to be at the minimum level of engagement. Your job is to push information to them and keep them informed. The onus is on them to read what you publish. Your job as the engagement officer is to ensure you are posting relevant information for them to digest and that they know where to find it.

1. Social Media Corporate Pages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube
2. Press Release Outlets. If you use an agency to do your press releases, these stakeholders must be informed about how to find it. If you do it internally, a link to announcement should be pushed to them.
3. Project blogs and company blogs. Show them how to subscribe to the RSS feed so that the notifications of new content sends an automatic notification.
4. Corporate websites. Your project should have a dedicated web page.
5. Digital newsletters and emails. They should be on the distribution list.

Consulting stakeholders

High-Interest/Low-Influence stakeholders should be connected to everything you’re doing for the Low-Interest/Low-Influence group as a starter. Beyond that, some additional consulting resources need to be put into play. You need to demonstrate consideration for their high level of interest regardless of their lack of influence.

1. Discussion forums should be set up online for these stakeholders to participate in if they have questions or feel the need to respond to other issues being discussed in the forum. This provides a path for ideation as you deal with important issues.

2. E-polls and online surveys should be used to gauge their reactions to changes in the projects as announced in the digital media. The responses they provide must be analysed and catalogued for future reference.

You need to have a keen sense of perception as to when one of these stakeholders is passionate and knowledgeable about an issue. That’s when you pull them into your inner circle for the required time to allow them to participate.

High-Influence/Low-Interest stakeholders should get everything we’ve discussed so far plus a more intimate consulting level of engagement. Remember, these stakeholders wield influence, and as a result, you want to shape how that influence is used.

For example:
1. Share your project issues with them in real time. Their feedback might be very useful.
2. Ask them to review relevant documents in areas that may increase their level of interest. After all, we are always looking for more supporters and champions of the project.
3. Begin the process of targeting them with personalised communications rather than just the RSS feed notification of new content being posted. Invite them directly to review postings that may raise their level of interest.

The concept of “keeping them satisfied” means that not only is perception needed, you also have to define the role they can play in the project as an advisor, champion, or a provider of funding and services as the need dictates. They will want something back for their cooperation. Satisfaction is paramount.

Working with stakeholders

High-Influence/High-interest stakeholders are the bread and butter of your engagement. You must treat them as part of your team.
1. Review the project risk register in real time. Make it available as a shared file and make sure they are notified every time a change is made.
2. Involve them to co-author relevant process documents.
3. Invite them to provide guest posts to your project and company blogs. Take it to the next level by developing a list of topics that might be well-suited to the specific interest they have in your project.
4. Use them as your pseudo-board of directors for the project team management. Share cost, schedule and performance concerns with them and get their feedback and suggestions.
5. Give them a corporate email tied to your project and make sure they are on the distribution list for important information that will serve as a heads up for pending PR announcements and major project announcements
6. They need to be part of your internal project management communication channels. If you use a project communication tool like Slack, they should be on it.


Hierarchy of engagement in stakeholder management

There is a hierarchy of engagement amongst the digital channels, methods and associated tools at your disposal when dealing with the stakeholders. To get to the details of that hierarchy, we must dig a little deeper beyond just the inform-consult-collaborate concepts and describe how each digital communication channel and associated tool work to accomplish the intent of inform-consult-collaborate.

Let’s look at it as a pyramid system where each level of the hierarchy involves a more direct level of stakeholder engagement.

The ultimate proof of the success of this pyramid system is proven in actual use, but we’ll save the details for later and just present an overview here.

stakeholder management hierarchy

From the image, you can understand the context between where the stakeholder falls on the categorisation grid, the level of communication needed, and the hierarchy of digital communication methods commonly used.

stakeholder engagement grid

Pull communication channels are those places where you frequently post corporate and project information for the taking. In other words, the stakeholder has to take the initiative to look for it.
Your only responsibility is to provide these low-interest/low-influence and borderline low-influence/high-interest stakeholders with the links to the information. A few of the more common digital channels are listed in the table.

Push Communication channels differ from pull channels in that you are addressing the information to the attention of the stakeholder. It can be done as an all stakeholders broadcast using a group email collective address from your CRM or you can target one of your four segmented groups according to your engagement grid categorisations.

The key here is not to overthink this group. Avoid addressing the stakeholders here individually and stick with the group approach to limit your investment of time. The added feature here is that the content of the communication is more focused on specific project updates/events.

Controlled Discussions are situations where you want to solicit specific input from a particular group of stakeholders. It’s a two-way communications path, but it’s not live. You are limiting the interaction to written exchanges of information over a digital medium. The frequency of these interactions is also controlled with a target of once a month encounters with a provision for special occurrences when the project needs some specific feedback.

Active Participation is where you include these stakeholders as part of your team using your task management system for the most part. They are a registered resource for the project and can be seen in the list of available resources when choosing to whom a task will be assigned. They will have limited hours available and normally have a narrowly defined role with equally bounded responsibilities based on their skills and knowledge.

Dynamic Partnership on a continuous basis with shared accountability and responsibility for the health of the project. This group of stakeholders is your peer group. They have as much experience and in some cases more experience in specific disciplines, than you. You can delegate management of project team members to them as well as involving them in the decision-making process.

Mark Rutter

Director at Tractivity
After graduating from Staffordshire University I joined Tractivity as a Junior Developer and can say I have never looked back since. From Developer to Director, my passion for Tractivity continues to grow as I uncover new ways to improve and grow our business.

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