How to Engage Stakeholders

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Of all the engagement scenarios in the world, stakeholder engagement is notoriously one of the hardest.

It is a massively tricky process because when it comes to having a stake in something, people are rightly precious about it, and have their own desires and intentions for the project or entity at large.

Essentially, everyone has their own patch. And they don’t want their patch to be ruined!
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More is not more

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  • More followers does not equal more value.
  • More activity does not equal more result.
  • More stuff does not equal more contentment.

It might, but it doesn’t necessarily. By walking the essentialist lifestyle I have discovered all the more (!) that more is not more.

In the words of the author Greg McKeeown, I’m on the disciplined pursuit of less. Indeed, I always have been, but it’s great to have words that explain it.

The way I have found I like to function as an essentialist is to gather, and then eliminate: I’m ok getting more, but I know it’s not more. I then cut down to the essence.

Ever heard of essentialism? I’m keen to know if you’ve experimented with it.

How to ask for, and get, the right amount of participation

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If you want people to engage with you, you will need to create opportunity for participation; it’s how engagement is ‘paid’ for. As I like to say, participation is the currency of engagement.

However, a recurring mistake with participation is to expect too little or too much:

  • Ask for too much participation, and fatigue quickly sets in. (I call this the overestimation of participation, and it’s a perennial problem.)
  • Ask for too little participation, and a low opinion sets in. (This is akin to something being so cheap it’s not valued.)

All engagement begins with an invitation, so what would be helpful, then, is to have an invitation that is adaptive and dynamic, showing those who want low participation a low involved option, and those who want higher engagement a higher option, and so on.

Buttons, dots and containers is a simple framework for inviting participation, each level building on the previous:

  • Buttons. You either push a button, or you do not push it. It is a request for a binary yes / no response, normally in an “if…then” statement. This is low participation. E.g:
    • “hands up if you are…”
    • “put in your email here if you want to receive…”
    • “arrive at this room at this time if you want…”
    • “say yes if you’d like to…”
    • “click here to indicate…”
    • “like this on Facebook if…”
  • Dots. You join dots! This is a request for a series of actions, often with a definite end point. This is medium participation. E.g:
    • “do the survey, and then do this homework”
    • “attend the meetings on these dates”
    • “give me three examples of”
    • “train the staff in these four areas”
    • “fill in questions 1 to 5, and then submit”
  • Containers. You fill containers. This is a request for free thinking or action, within set boundaries. This is high participation. E.g:
    • “suggest how we could achieve…”
    • “create your own version of…”
    • “lead this team to achieve…”
    • “submit an idea for…”

What we can do with our dynamic invitation to participate is weave in buttons, dots and containers, so that the recipient with whom we want to engage can self-select their participation level, often by the very next action they take.

Examples of Buttons, Dots and Containers

Let’s use the example of a classroom. A teacher is seeking to engage the class. They must ensure every student can participate at the level they are motivated to. By not offering a range of levels, motivation is lost for those who wanted a different option from the default one provided.

Thus our teacher offers a button, dots, and a container. Let’s say they are looking to see if students know about the subject of growth mindset:

We’re going to do some work on growth mindset now. Could you tell me three examples of where you’ve used growth mindset [dots], or even you could suggest how growth mindset could help us in this class right now [containers], or if not, could you simply say yes if you know what growth mindset is [buttons].

So obviously what’s going on here is they first ask for dots (“three examples”), then a container (“suggest how”), and then lastly, the button (“could you simply say yes if”).

The reason they are in this order is because the dots aren’t too scary for anyone: they are a bit above the button, and a bit below the container. We then build up to the top level of container, and then finish on the simplest level so that the last thing in everyone’s mind is at the least the easiest way to participate (and because we’ve already offered the dots and container options, anyone keen for those levels doesn’t even hear the last line, because they are busy at work in their mind already!)

Here’s another example, this one for volunteers:

We’re looking for volunteers who’d like to get involved in different ways, and all of whom are passionate about ABC. We’re looking for people who might have XYZ skills [dots], or people who can contribute to the planning [containers], or people who can just help out on these dates [buttons].

What’s going on here is much the same. The first sentence primes people by getting them to think “yes” twice (I can get involved, and I’m passionate), while priming them to know there’s going to be different levels, so listen out for your one! Then we offer the dots option, “might have XYZ skills”, emphasising the might to leave room for people who don’t have those skills to not be alienated. Then we go onto the container (“can contribute to”), before wrapping up with the buttons option “people can just help out on these dates.”

Thus, in both examples above we’ve created one invitation that is dynamic and adaptive to a range of participation options.

A button for you, a container for me

To flesh this idea out, comment below with your own scenario, and I’ll help you create a dynamic buttons, dots and containers invitation for it :-)

Engagement Is About Maximising Value

Marketing or hiring is about getting new relationships, but engagement is about doing more with the relationships you already have.

That’s engagement: it’s about maximising existing relationship, to get more value out of them. It wholeheartedly seeks value over volume.

A few implications, then:

  • A brand knows that engaged customers are worth 300% more, for instance.
  • An engaging public speaker isn’t engaging because they draw big crowds. They are engaging because they maximise the relationship they have with the audience when they are speaking, which as a result, draws the crowds.
  • An engaging brand Facebook page maximises the value of the relationship it already has with its followers. Hence, Facebook separates between metrics of reach and engagement.
  • A consultant can only up sell more to an existing client if the client is engaged!

Engagement is belief in human synergy. It’s a bit like ice. Ice is sturdier and stronger than steam or water because the atoms in a solid object are tighter and more closely knit together than they are in liquid or gas form.

Engagement is maximising value by being better together.

The power of an invitation

Engagement literally means a bond. Well, you can only create a bond if both people play their part in the process, and you can only play your part if you’re invited to do so.

The opposite of an invitation is information. This is where you are not invited to participate, but instead expected to understand.

Many engagement efforts fail because they are not an invitation, they are information.

  • A great presentation, for instance, is an invitation to go on a journey together through the talk. A poor one is simply information, and thus death by powerpoint, while the only thing the audience is actually engaging with is their phone.
  • A great employer invites the staff to engage with the company’s mission. A poor one simply informs the staff what to do.
  • A great stakeholder initiative invites those same people to co-create the project. A poor stakeholder initiative tells people what is going to happen with leaflets continuing information.

Communication is what the first stage of engagement is about. Organisationally, it’s about the discipline of messaging and communication, through the various human, digital and offline channels: it is the outbound part of engagement.

If your engagement efforts are failing, it’s possible that you aren’t inviting people, you’re just informing them.

To turn it around, try this simple tip: ask a question.

Did that work for you?

In with the Old, out with the New

How do you keep up with it all? I mean all the content, the blog posts, the ideas, the formulas, the “must-read” articles and “must-watch” videos.

My answer: I can’t.

But for a long time I tried. It was a stark revelation to me when I was a minister, doing what I felt was my duty before God, and I realised I simply couldn’t read all the books on any given subject, and thus I could never be sure I had considered every point and was teaching what was definitely, certainly, totally true on any scripture.

It’s the same in my work. I was trying to read about psychology, sociology and anthropology to fill in the gaps on my engagement theory, but I couldn’t do it. There’s just too much content to consider.

This was a particular struggle when I was trying to solve my own faith-wrestle with the existence, or at least the common expression, of God. So many people had written so much about it: how could I ever come to a conclusion?

I realised that, as I wrote in my journal in 2015:

I cannot have it all, know it all, or do it all.

The solution, I have since decided, is to focus on what is essential.

And I have come to believe that what is essential is that which has stood the test of time. The Old.

Accordingly:

  • I gave away around 2/3rds of my library.
  • I am buying no new books for 2017, and possibly beyond.
  • I am not entertaining any new ideas.
  • I’m still not watching TED Talks, or listening to sermons, or the like.

Instead, I’m embracing the old.

For instance, one example of the Old is Jesus saying love your neighbour. Do we really need more than that?