3 Secrets To Successful Stakeholder Engagement

For many companies, it’s the time of year for knuckling down and bottoming out the strategies and plans for next year. So here are some of our tips on how to gain approval of your brand strategy plans and ideas, easily and smoothly, on their journey up through the approval ranks.

As ex-clients, we recall these times with a bit of a shudder – tiresome hours of thinking and hard work, culminating in a big meeting where you have one shot at persuading and convincing your senior stakeholders on the plan. We know it’s not easy. Whatever size of company we work with – or talk to – they all seem to agree that the management of senior people or stakeholder engagement is a big issue.

There are so many stories that we’ve heard of – and very occasionally experienced ourselves – where senior management ignores consumer research and months of hard work by their team to decide that “my wife doesn’t think that, so the strategy can’t be right” or “I think we should make it green.” You try to argue your case and make your recommendations but they fall on deaf ears. 

And for those of you that are senior management, it should help you understand how the propensity for personal bias and the lack of the full picture causes unnecessary stress for your team, increased costs and timings and ultimately a weaker end result. 

A man pointing at a flipchart saying 'why'

We appreciate that this is ideal world thinking, and it may be too late to implement for this annual planning cycle. But we would advise and fully encourage any senior management who has the power to veto strategies and ideas to attend all key meetings and workshops. There are three main reasons for this:

  • Not only will they fully understand the rationale for decisions and recommendations, but they are also reassured that a much wider spectrum of alternatives have been considered and eliminated.
  • It enables them to have their say and get their thoughts, beliefs and theories out on the table. It reassures them that their opinion has been voiced and put into the mix. It also means that everyone’s now fully aware of their biases and the results they’re expecting. It’s now known and can be managed.
  • It’s just human nature that people are more co-operative on endeavours they helped to design or inform. They feel like they invested and have part ownership. This is summed up by a great quote from David Schimmel, CEO of And Partners: “If they birthed it, they can’t kill it.”

So what other ways and tools are available to ensure buy-in? Well, before we go into this we need to go through some background on how people make decisions.

According to neuroscientists, the left (more analytical) side of the brain always wants to pin down a concrete right or wrong answer. It is the non-emotional, factual and sceptical side that can never get enough information to make what it feels is a 100% sound decision. The right side of the brain however, is much more emotional, creative and impetuous. It elicits gut feelings – an emotional reaction rather than a rational thought. So, it’s the right side of the brain that informs the ‘I want’ or ‘I need’ buying decisions. Thought always requires feeling – it helps us to understand and process information. It’s vital in the decision-making process. Emotions are needed in order to think clearly.

Now we know that most decisions are emotional and then add onto that brand projects that involve creativity, like new product development concepts, brand design, brand repositioning or an advertising idea – it’s easy to see why there’s a large propensity for decision making to be influenced by personal bias. It’s just human nature and isn’t going to change. Instead we need to prepare for it and manage it.

Our top secrets to successful stakeholder engagement

1.  Think like a lawyer

When compiling your case it’s important to start by putting yourself in the senior manager’s shoes. Work out all their likely objections and what they don’t know. What are their issues likely to be? Make a list of their possible concerns and make sure they are addressed head-on.

2.  Make it visual

There’s a lot of evidence to show that visuals speed up understanding of information and help to create a more accurate understanding. It also helps to retain information. In his book Memory Techniques, James Manktelow says 65% of people absorb information visually, 30% learn through hearing and 5% through simulation (kinaesthetic or touch). In short, our brains are wired for pictures rather than text and data.

Secrets to stakeholder engagement

 

Which do you understand faster and engages you more?

Images reach for the emotions – and we already know that emotions help decision-making. So visualise what you’re saying. Don’t just tell them. SHOW them. Use visuals that explain why alternatives don’t work, don’t just rely on your recommendation. Think about ways of using visuals to enable ease of comparisons or the consequences of different strategies. On top of this, visuals can bring ideas alive, create excitement and buy-in. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.

3. Tell a story

Throughout history, humans have used stories as a means to gather and learn information e.g. religion, culture, survival skills. Stories and storytelling reverberate with the emotional right side of the brain. They have greater impact and recall than information that’s presented in a quantitative or factual manner. Stories touch the emotions that convince, persuade and make people buy. Fact.

Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind (2006) argues that: “Gone is the age of left brain dominance; the future belongs to storytellers, creative and empathetic right brain thinkers”.

So turn your presentation into a story that really brings alive how and why the consumer will engage and be compelled to purchase your recommendations.

 

Stakeholder engagement is never guaranteed to be a totally smooth process as it’s dependent on the nature and character of individual senior people, company politics etc. But by using these tools, the approval process will be a lot easier than without them. 

We hope this article helps smooth the path to successful sell-in of your 2014 plans. Good luck!

 

Published 25th July 2013 by Shelly Greenway @ the Strategy Distillery