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Taking the fear out of asking – Find out what your stakeholders really think

While it’s popular for businesses to pay lip service to ‘stakeholder engagement’, reaching out to employees, to clients and to business partners can be a confronting task. However, carefully structured engagement can produce useful insights that can lead to positive change. Engaging in a formal process to draw insights from your stakeholders can be a great step in connecting with, engaging, and learning from the people and organisations who have a stake in your business.

So how can you turn your organisation into a ‘good listener’?

Choosing how to listen

Drawing actionable insights from stakeholders starts with asking the right questions, in the right setting. Different strategies are required for drawing information from different types of stakeholders. Think about who you are talking to. How can you make them comfortable to give you honest opinions? Do they want confidentiality, or does public discussion suit them better?

Obviously the answers to these questions will differ widely depending on the stakeholder group being engaged: you may choose an anonymous survey for your employees, or direct engagement through social media to listen to customers. Tailor your channels to suit each of your stakeholder groups.

Once you have chosen a medium for engagement, the next step is finding the right questions to ask. Think about what sorts of insights are most valuable to you. Do you want quantitative feedback? Or do you want qualitative insights from your stakeholders? How much time and attention do you anticipate you will get from a stakeholder? By answering these questions before you begin, you can ensure that your engagement process yields useful results.

Applying recommendations

Armed with insights from stakeholders, your next challenge is to pursue meaningful change based on these insights. Without taking visible steps to implement the recommendations of your stakeholders, they are unlikely to feel that you’ve heard their concerns at all.

This isn’t to say you have to do everything that is suggested, but it’s important that you’re seen to have heard what your stakeholders have to say.

Communicate why you have made the choices you have made, how you have incorporated the feedback you’ve received. Communicate what your vision for the future is. By listening and leading you may find a course of action that satisfies both your strategy and your stakeholders.

Keep listening

Once you have completed a formal engagement process – you’ve listened, you’ve thought about your stakeholders’ opinions and you’ve acted (or not acted) on their advice – you may feel like your job is done. But stakeholder engagement is an ongoing exercise – your stakeholders are constantly changing, just as your business is constantly changing.

Social media is a great tool for real time feedback and engagement. Establish an open and responsive online presence and encourage your various stakeholders to engage (productively) with your business.

Actually listening to stakeholders can be a challenge, and it can expose you to uncomfortable truths or ugly perceptions. But the benefits of finding out what your stakeholders really think often far outweigh the costs.