The art of managing stakeholders – I

Whether you are a communications professional or steeped into government relations or a CSR expert, managing stakeholders forms a key aspect of your role.

At one time the only way one could connect and engage with stakeholders was through personal face-to- face interactions. The advent and growth of social media has today gifted professionals’ new platforms wherein they can create their presence, build the organisation brand, position themselves, and also network.

Networking though is much more than getting connected on social media or liking someone’s post or even commenting on a story that attracted you. It goes beyond those superficial pleasantries to actually getting to know the person, learning from her/him, meeting in person, and then working towards building a sustainable relationship. That is what managing stakeholders means.

Principles for managing stakeholders

  1. Preparation

Even before you get down to interacting with stakeholders, prepare your ground thoroughly. If you have just joined a new sector as a communications professional, it is normal to be in a tearing hurry to meet the media. There is this pressure to prove yourself and quickly blend within. Instead, pause. Ask yourself what will you share with the media? What do you know about the sector that you have just joined? First, familiarise yourself with the history of stakeholder management within your organisation. Then, get yourself aligned with the expectations of the CEO and the business leaders.

  1. Understand your stakeholders

After you have understood the business and the industry you represent, it is time to understand your audience. Draw out the stakeholder map and prioritise who is critical and important to meet. Often one forgets that they need to provide information that the media wants to know. Communicators get too wrapped up in the world of giving out news that they want to tell – unfortunately, you may find that there is very little interest in what you want to tell. You then have a situation wherein you have to satisfy your management’s pressure of wanting to be out there and balance it with what the media actually wants to know. Understand your stakeholders. There is no short-cut to this step.

  1. Sustain the relationships

Now that you have understood that a deep understanding of your stakeholders and building relationships with them, meeting them on a continuous basis and bringing all the parties’ interests together is key to developing a solid narrative, you need to recognise and accept the fact that stakeholders are complex and real people. They have their own interests and agenda that is of priority to them. What the print media seeks may be completely different from how social media rules. Both have different target audiences. It is how well-versed you are with your stakeholder’s agenda, how deeply you understand them, and how aligned you are with their priorities that will help you sustain deeper relationships.

  1. Create consistent win-win solutions

Let us admit – satisfying multiple stakeholders is no easy task. If you are corporate affairs professional who juggles between managing the media and the government and also keeping a watchful eye on activism that has the potential of derailing your narrative, you know what I am talking about.  The art lies in connecting all the dots and building a story that addresses the issues of all the touch points. You may customise your story according to your stakeholder, but the messaging has to remain consistent. Working on such win-win solutions will require you to closely collaborate with your business and other cross functional teams so that there is complete alignment on the messaging.

Managing stakeholders, each who have their own varied agenda, requires continuous work.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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