How to get engaged (with your stakeholders)

What better day than 14th February to think about getting engaged? Last week I came across the kind of document I love to see: a short, snappy, practical summary of some tools for analysing stakeholders from IDS. The authors explain four key tools; some are pretty familiar to marketing folk e.g. Alignment Interest Matrix (AIM), while others are less commonly seen outside of development, such as Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis.

It got me thinking about some of the ways people working in fields such as marketing, organisational change, etc. look at stakeholders and whether these might be of relevance to people wanting to engage research stakeholders.

One tool that I think is under-used is Peter Block’s matrix which positions stakeholders in term of level of Trust and Agreement with you. It takes the AIM tool a step further to factor in relationships between people and I’ve found it really helpful when I’m in situations where how much people like me is my only source of power. I often use it when I’m teaching project management (given that project managers often have to cajole people to contribute when they have no hierarchical mandate). I imagine it could be useful for think tanks who are trying to influence stakeholders with whom they have some level of existing relationships (negative or positive).

The Block matrix is explained nicely by the TeamSTAR Project with some advice on how to work with each group e.g. with Opponents (where there’s trust but disagreement) are people you can have a constructive discussion with because you already have an established relationship and may end up reviewing your viewpoint or reframing it. Sticking with Peter Block and the power of personal connections (this post is fast becoming a Valentine’s card to his work…) his “six conversations” methodology for civic engagement is really worth a read.

Finally, a shameless plug for something I wrote for IDS. The Organisational Decision Making Unit (or the buying centre) is a nifty piece of marketing thinking that people working in research uptake might consider to identify who your stakeholders might be influenced by. I’ve tried to find a development-friendly summary online but am stumped (please tell me if you find one) so meanwhile check out p.17 of Who Are We Aiming To Reach?

 

What is it I do again? How to talk to strangers about our work.

As Charlie used to say, you should “never go anywhere with men and ladies that you don’t know” and that’s good advice. But sometimes we do have to talk to strangers about our work, often at short notice and even answer the dreaded question “so what’s your project all about?”. What’s the wise thing to do in those situations?

I recently ran a workshop with some of the lovely folk at the British Library for Development Studies where we shared our experiences of talking about what we do or want to do, to people who we want to get to know better (donors, potential partners, people who might be able to help us with our work).

We quickly ditched the idea of developing an “elevator pitch”, those short speeches we’re meant to deliver to a captive audience. Of course it’s handy to have a standard statement or two and there’s lots of advice out there on how to develop them. But it’s not very considerate of the person riding in the elevator with you (or stuck in the queue for the coffee or loo). We were looking for some good advice on how to get conversations going with people, who we don’t know well, and get them interested in our work while still being ourselves.

Learning a pitch parrot-fashion is not going to make you any friends.

Learning a pitch parrot-fashion is not going to make you any friends.

Turns out that between us we had quite a few ideas including:

Ask questions – the anti-elevator pitch approach is to get to know the person as quickly as possible, and then explain your idea or project or odd-sounding job title in a way that speaks to what you’ve found out about them.

Have something in common – look for a connection between the two of you, where you are, who you know, what you’re wearing.

Use examples and stories – especially if your work involves a lot of jargon or theory, remember to bring in real people and situations to make it accessible.

Be rigorous – you don’t need a prepared speech, but it is worth learning some facts that support what you’re saying; maybe something an expert has said in a recent publication, or some firm numbers from evaluations that back up your case.

Be a lovely person – you’re talking to another person, who might be tired, away from home, fed up with being pitched at. If it’s your style, by all means be charming, or cheeky, or funny, but try to make them feel better for having spent time talking to you.

Have no more than three messages – those core points to get across which could be your values, objectives, what you’re doing that’s different. If you work in a team then you need to establish these together. They’re the things you’d like the other person to go away associating with you and your work but how you communicate them is up to you.

Make sure you can contact them – ask for their card, or their email and send them something useful and relevant afterwards (maybe a link to that expert’s paper you were talking about or the name of a great B&B in NYC).

Knowing all this is great, and pinning down the facts and messages in advance is better, but best of all is practising it. For which I have two recommendations: get into the habit of practising scenarios with your colleagues (with another team member around to give feedback and support if needed), and go speed-dating.

No more tiers: five things that can take the pain out of decentralised marketing communications

Marketing communications is no longer just the responsibility of those with the words in their job title. Many organisations require staff in different roles to incorporate promotion, dissemination and general news-spreading into their workload. This decentralisation of marketing communications has the potential to be very effective, however it doesn’t happen by itself. Here are five things I have observed can make
a difference:

Motivation – whether from the results people hope marketing communications will bring, or from enjoying the process (using new tools, using their imagination, doing something tangible, interacting with real people, etc.). On the other hand, if staff can’t see a personal benefit to doing it, they are less likely to allocate time to it or have the enthusiasm that successful marketing communications depends on. When did a reluctant marketer every convince you to do anything?

Time – staff need genuine encouragement from their managers that they should prioritise spending time on marketing communications over other activities, rather than it being something to be done in addition to their current workload. If not, it’ll either languish at the bottom of the “to do” list making people feel depressed every time they see it, or it will get done but staff are likely to become stressed and de-motivated.

Freedom – giving people the space and permission to experiment with new communication tools, to come up with their own ideas, and make (inevitable) mistakes. But they also need to be clear what the boundaries are: e.g. house-style guidelines, approval processes, legal restrictions, etc. Staff might surprise you with their innovation and unearth hidden talents.

Focus – when people know what the specific purpose is for their marketing communications, who it should be aimed at and have measurable targets, they can use their time more effectively and see how well they are doing. Realistic, measurable targets can help with Motivation. It helps if your organisation has identified its niche (in comparison to others in the sector) and how to select which target audiences to prioritise.

Support – this can include peer support mechanisms (e.g. meetings where people can share their experiences, ideas and challenges with others), having someone to ask for technical advice or feedback, reference tools, and a champion or cheerleader for marketing communications who will persuade people to keep going. Perhaps a role for the Marketing or Communications Officer?

These are observations from a number of organisations working in the development and public sectors. How do they fit with your experiences?

(This post was originally featured on my earlier blog, Positive Influence. I’ve been told the advice and observations are still as relevant as ever, hence its reappearance here)