Communicating with stakeholders

Maintaining stakeholder support is critical to the successful implementation of any business strategy. In a small, privately owned business, stakeholders include the owner and their family, employees and customers plus industry regulators. In a large international charity, the stakeholders are more complex and include recipients, governments, other aid organisations, supporters and employees. They may span several geographies and have interests and agendas which do not always coincide. For example, national governments may want to maximise the tax revenues from organisations operating in their countries, but shareholders would prefer taxes were paid in the lowest tax areas.

Not all stakeholders have an equal interest in the business, nor are they regarded as equally critical to its continued success. Companies of all sizes are recognising the importance of taking time to identify who their stakeholders are, and then developing plans to satisfy their stakeholders’ needs, hopefully in exchange for their continued support.
Stakeholder maps are an important starting point, both at company level and individual manager level as both must make a business case and win support for the implementation of a given strategy

The key to stakeholder management lies in effective communication. This includes:
  1. A clear communication process
  2. A clear message
  3. Having the means to transmit this message effectively (and consistently)

By mapping the key stakeholder groups, you can start to assess the extent and nature of communication activities needed, providing the basis for segmentation as each group has different needs and interests.

Each group will also have different motivations and so these also need to be understood. Their needs may need to be segmented before communication strategies can be developed. For example, a charity; there are regular supporters whose needs will be satisfied by a feeling of involvement and achievement and a recognition of their efforts. There will be corporate sponsors who will want the facts and figures. Then there will be those who are less involved but would appreciate a regular newsletter. Understanding and prioritising segments is important, as it allows managers to know who the receivers are and what are their needs.

Communication via external campaigns is another element to be considered in maintaining stakeholder support. For example, you may need to work with other departments such as HR to communicate with employees or the Secretary who wishes to strengthen the public profile.

Tip: To avoid wasting time and resources, it is worth testing communications with pilot audiences so that potential problems can be resolved early. Monitoring responses to communications will provide useful feedback for improving ongoing dialogue and for identifying anything which has detracted from the message sent.