When we're immersed in a major project, working round the clock to deliver ambitious targets on time and under budget, it's easy to start thinking about stakeholder engagement in terms of us and them. We imagine that stakeholders exist beyond the boundaries of our project and our organisation - a mysterious bunch we hope to satisfy when it comes to delivering our objectives, but whom have little to do with our everyday efforts.
Taking this view, as several experts in the art of engaging stakeholders have pointed out, is a mistake. A stakeholder engagement plan begins at home - and the way that relationships with internal stakeholders are managed is arguably just as important as any interaction with powerful figures beyond the perimeter.
Building trust from inside
It was interesting to see internal stakeholder relationships discussed in a recent article by Maggie FitzPatrick, Johnson & Johnson's chief communications officer. Writing in PR Week, she claimed that "trust" has replaced reputation management as the most effective way of building and protecting an organisation's image.
For J&J, a drive to "strengthen external bonds of trust" began with a campaign to re-engage internal stakeholders. The company used the 70th anniversary of its 'credo' - a letter about corporate responsibility written to US industrialists by former CEO Robert Wood Johnson - as an opportunity to ask staff members what made them proud of the business, as well as inviting suggestions about what it could do better.
Corporate guidance on stakeholder engagement strategy typically begins with an instruction to 'identify' your stakeholders and then group them in categories to ensure more purposeful interactions. But perhaps the first step should actually be a review of engagement with those who should need no identification - internal staff members who are in and around your key projects every day.
Internal engagement and the cloud
"Studies reinforce what good companies have long known: employees aren't motivated simply by higher earnings, but also by contributing to a higher purpose," FitzPatrick observed. As in the management of external stakeholders, cloud technology has a key role to play here.
Discussions about the cloud are still largely focused on its operational and financial benefits - a rapidly deployable resource that can be immediately scaled up or down as necessary. However, a cloud collaboration platform can also be a powerful tool for building engagement within the walls of an organisation. It provides a shared online workspace, owned and controlled by no particular user group, where people can share knowledge, upload documents and discuss ideas. Departmental siloes, so often a major obstacle for building trust and engagement across an organisation, can be broken down with this approach.
With collaboration software like Kahootz, users also have access to tools more traditionally associated with engagement work - surveys and questionnaires to consult stakeholders and gather feedback. With built-in reporting tools, it's simple to analyse the data and refine your activities for the best possible result. In short, the collaboration tool contains everything organisations need to bring people together and build trust through effective stakeholder engagement - internally and externally.