Advanced stakeholder management

Forming Relationships with Stakeholders: How the Pros Do It

So, you need to build relationships with your stakeholders and need a little guidance to get...

Forming relationships with stakeholders — how the pros do it.

So, you need to build relationships with your stakeholders and need a little guidance to get you started?

We’ve got you covered with 11 insights into exactly how the pros build stakeholder relationships!

Start with Strategy

Infographic showing 9 objectives behind forming stakeholder relationships.

The key difference between a professional and non-professional approach to forming stakeholder relationships is strategy. You need to know exactly what you hope to get out of your stakeholder relationships from the start. Otherwise, you’re flying blind and risk wasting your time focusing on the wrong things (and people).

Strategic objectives for building stakeholder relationships could include:

  • Reducing risk
  • Increasing the success of a project
  • Gaining access to new resources
  • Making better-informed decisions
  • Managing or improving reputation and credibility
  • Managing or reducing conflict and resistance
  • Providing better support to the community
  • Improving sustainability (especially in the long-run)
  • Complying with legal requirements

We’ve written a lot about planning and strategy in previous blogs. Check out:

Identify Your Stakeholders

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start to figure out who might be able to help you get there. In other words, it’s time to do some stakeholder identification — and note down all the people and groups that may be impacted by, have an influence on, or an interest in your project or organization. 

Next, hone in on the key stakeholders from this list that you want to prioritize for relationship building. Of course, it might take a little more digging to figure out who those stakeholders are, and how you might best reach them…

Do Your Research

Infographic shows four aspects of stakeholder analysis.

It’s a good idea to do your homework on the stakeholders you hope to form relationships with. Yep, it’s time to do some stakeholder analysis. In summary, this means figuring out their level of influence on your project, how the work might affect them, and what their goals, interests, and preferences might be. You might also want to understand how they’re connected in the community, with your organization, and with your other stakeholders.

From there, you can figure out who you need to prioritize your relationship building efforts with. And how you might go about building those relationships to be most effective.

Put Their Needs First

You have a goal, a strategy, and likely an agenda for the stakeholders you build relationships with. But you can’t expect a relationship to go far if you approach someone with that mindset. You have to make it about them (at least to begin with) and give them a good reason to engage with you.

Be generous with your stakeholders, prioritize their needs, and they’ll likely be eager to reciprocate. This is also one good reason (among many) to start the relationship building process early — so you have plenty of time to look after your stakeholders before you actually need anything in return.

Be Trustworthy

What’s the foundation of every good relationship? According to HBR, ‘trust is the social glue that holds business relationships together’.

The challenge with this is that trust is tricky to attain and very easy to lose. It’s especially difficult if your stakeholders already feel negatively towards the organization you represent or the project you’re undertaking. 

But there are things you can do to increase and maintain trust in your relationships, such as:

  • Be open and honestTransparency with stakeholders can help to build or rebuild trust in your relationships, so don’t be afraid to share the facts, even if they’re unfavorable
  • Be accountable – Take responsibility for your role and actions, and don’t hide from problems when they come up
  • Be capable – Invest in and demonstrate your skills so that stakeholders will have confidence in your ability to get the job done
  • Be consistent – When dealing with stakeholders, keep your information, communication frequency, and tone of voice consistent
  • Have integrity – Stick to your principles, and always follow through on your promises

Encourage Participation

Strong relationships require mutual commitment. And you’ll find that your stakeholders are much more likely to buy into the project and associated relationships when they’re able to get involved in the process. Participation opportunities could include:

  • Involvement in decision making 
  • Sharing resources and information
  • Online or in-person surveys
  • Focus groups and workshops
  • Offering feedback (that will have a direct impact)

And of course, you must acknowledge stakeholder participation, listen to stakeholder feedback, and take their comments into account when making decisions.

Create Alignment

Whether it’s shared goals, interests, or something else, getting in alignment can help strengthen any stakeholder relationship and increase mutual understanding. Plus, it can be a useful thing to fall back on in case of conflict or disagreement. Alignment matters — not just between your organization and your stakeholders, but also between your different stakeholder groups.

If you can focus on and draw attention to what you have in common with stakeholders, you can often build enough respect and trust to work through your differences.

Create Connection Opportunities

Infographic shows places to build stakeholder relationships.

If you’re starting from zero, how do you start to build those stakeholder relationships and connections? 

You need to go where your stakeholders are. This might involve volunteering in the local community or attending networking events, markets, or something else. You could also go where your stakeholders are online — via local Facebook groups, mutual LinkedIn connections, and other online communities.

Fortunately, once you’re connected to a few stakeholders, they’ll likely introduce you to others and it’s much easier to build your network.

Adapt Your Approach

Chances are, the different stakeholders you need to build relationships will require different approaches. For instance:

  • Each stakeholder will have a different level of impact, influence, and interest
  • Some will have more power than others
  • Some marginalized groups will need accommodations in order to participate
  • Some stakeholders will be from different cultural or language backgrounds
  • Some will prefer face-to-face events, one-on-one meetings, and phone calls
  • Others will want SMS or email updates, online webinars, or something else entirely
  • Some of your stakeholders will be onboard with the changes or project, while others will be resistant to change

From this, it should be pretty clear that you can’t put all your stakeholders in one box. To build strong relationships with each, you’ll need to take an individualized approach. Fortunately, if you’ve done a good job of identifying and analyzing your stakeholders, you can segment or group them accordingly.

Monitor Your Relationships

Relationships are not static — after all, people and environments change all the time. So, keep track of your stakeholders, their feedback, and their needs. And monitor the strength of your relationships with them so that you can assess whether you’re being successful or not. Then use these insights to learn, and continually adapt and improve your approach.

Use Stakeholder Relationship Management Software

Finally, one of the main things that set the professionals apart from the amateurs when it comes to stakeholder relationships is the tools they use to manage them. 

It’s certainly possible to start with basic tools (like spreadsheets) to track relationships, but these soon become extremely limiting and inefficient once you need to manage more than a few stakeholder relationships. Plus, they lack tools that can provide valuable insights into how your relationships are going.

Read more about this in our previous blogs on Corporate Relationship Management: When Asana & Spreadsheets Don’t Cut It Anymore and 4 Reasons Why You Should Leave The Spreadsheets Behind.

If you’re looking for software to build and manage stakeholder relationships, you’ll love Simply Stakeholders. It’s user-friendly and feature-rich, with the ability to add stakeholder lists, analyze stakeholders, map stakeholders, create stakeholder relationship maps, generate reports, and so much more. 

Learn more about our relationship management tools or reach out to our team to organize a demo.