Stakeholder Business 

The Key to Your Stakeholder Engagement Plan

Jan 11, 2023
Employees in a conference room looking engaged and happy.

By Nathan Havey

When it comes to a solid stakeholder engagement plan, there’s a single skill that will make or break your company’s efforts to engage its stakeholders. Training teams to get better at this skill can yield incredible benefits for your company. This skill is deceptively simple, and you can see it in action in the following anecdote.

Explore the "Why"

There was once a parent trying to mediate a dispute between their two children over who would get the last orange in the house. They both want the orange and the parent is ready to grab a cutting board and a knife and split the difference, giving half an orange to each and settling the dispute. But then the parent stops to think for a moment and asks each child why they want the orange. They then discover that one child wants to squeeze it for juice and the other wants the rind to bake a cake — and a superior solution presents itself.

While it’s rarely so cut and dry, the essential skill that is needed for your stakeholder engagement plan is having the ability to discover the core needs that often lie between the lines of what your stakeholders are saying. If you can understand why something is important to a stakeholder, you can often open up a wide range of pathways to meet a stakeholder’s core needs. This helps you to stay focused on what really matters and gives you flexibility in resolving what might at first appear to be zero-sum tradeoffs.

Let’s consider the anecdote above in more general terms. You’re trying to get alignment among your key stakeholders on how to distribute scarce resources in your company. They all ask for more than you can approve and you’re inclined to give each only part of what they’re requesting. But you stop and ask them why they’re making that request to see if you can identify ways to align their interests and get them more of what they need.

Uncover the Core Need

Why is your high-potential employee asking for a raise? Do they need the money to help relieve financial stress at home? Are they feeling stuck in their current role and grasping for signs that they are progressing? Are they craving acknowledgement and appreciation? Uncovering their core need helps you to meet the core need, which may or may not be met most effectively by approving the raise.

Why is your vendor asking to be paid in advance? Are they in a cash crisis? Is there a lack of trust in your company? Is it a standard but unimportant part of their contracts? Will they need the money in advance to fulfill their promised work? Uncovering the core need and meeting it may give you more flexibility and actually build trust with that vendor.

Why is your customer canceling their order? Are they unable to pay now? Are they switching to a competitor? Have they received information that makes them question your company? Have they found a different product that better meets their needs? Uncovering the core need could help you to better understand your customer, spur innovation, open up new markets, or correct a potentially disastrous flaw in your product or service.

Unlock a New Path

Building your organization's capacity to discover the underlying needs of your stakeholders will make or break your stakeholder engagement plan. The next time a stakeholder asks you for something, can you pause and ask why? It may just unlock a new path that works better for you both. 


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