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Gleb Tsipursky

Customer Care

Eight Powerful Questions You Should Ask Before Stakeholder Engagement

Effective engagement can foster productivity and stronger financials

Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 13:02

Stakeholder engagement is one of the more critical aspects of leadership, whether you’re a team leader or a member of a cross-functional team trying to lead team members to focus on quality. Stakeholders can be anyone from your colleagues to suppliers to business partners, and your relationship with them is dynamic and can change over time.

There are many advantages to identifying and getting to know your stakeholders, and even more disadvantages to not engaging with them. Failing to understand their needs can lead to blind spots for managers and executives, which can have disastrous effects, such as low employee morale or a dismal bottom line.

On the other hand, effective engagement can result in increased productivity and stronger financials. We can use research-based strategies to notice such blind spots so we can overcome them.

Identifying your key influencers

Although you might be inclined to start engaging with all the stakeholders in your organization immediately, it would be more practical to focus on the relationships that matter the most. This means sitting down to come up with a list of all stakeholders and then whittling down this list to the people who have the most impact on your goals. These are your key influencers. Even though it might be tempting to address the concerns of all your stakeholders, limited time and resources mean that you will accomplish more by addressing a targeted list.

When determining who your key influencers are, look for these three attributes:

1. The stakeholder has a significant impact on your goals. This means that the long-term success of your goals hinges in large part on a continued relationship with this individual or group.

2. The stakeholder can’t easily be replaced: Whether the stakeholder is a key cross-functional team member, a top-performing department, or a time-tested supplier, you can identify who this stakeholder is by assessing past performance.

3. The relationship is mutual: You can clearly identify what you need from the stakeholder and vice versa. Your goals and desired results align with those of this individual or organization.

Recently, I sat down with Bill, a coaching client and healthcare entrepreneur leader. He and his senior management team had been trying to get support from patients’ groups to encourage the widespread adoption of their innovative medical equipment, which is of much higher quality than products from their old-school competitors.

However, it had been a year since they launched their new product line, and they had not gained sufficient traction. Bill suspected that it might be due to the higher cost of their medical equipment. His first instinct was to do one-on-one outreach to key influencers in patients’ groups to explain that, while his organization’s products had a higher price tag, they use a more advanced technology that yields higher-quality results. Due to this higher quality, Bill’s company offered a more comprehensive and longer warranty period compared with competing products.

Bill approached me after preparing a list of more than 40 key influencers. He was having a difficult time developing a strategy to address them and was feeling pressured because he needed to present his findings and results in an upcoming meeting with investors.

When I checked Bill’s list, I noticed that he had included a wide variety of influencers, including many who did not have a key decision-making role in shaping the advocacy efforts of patients’ groups. We pared his list to just eight key leaders, and because they had many similar concerns and priorities, Bill was much better able to come up with a plan to engage with them.

Be prepared by doing a pre-engagement assessment using these eight questions

Regardless of the urgency, do a pre-engagement check before you engage with your key influencers directly. This will prepare you for the meetings and lead to a productive discourse.

Otherwise, you might fall into the dangerous judgment error known as the false consensus effect, where you assume other people are more similar to you and more inclined to do what you want them to do than is really the case. The false consensus effect is just one of more than 100 mental blind spots that scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases.

The questions below are informed by cutting-edge neuroscience research on how to address these cognitive biases, along with my own experience of more than two decades coaching and training leaders on stakeholder engagement.

1. What are their feelings, values, goals, and incentives around this issue?
Bill’s key influencers—the eight leaders of patients’ groups—were willing to try a more high-quality product. However, they were wary of endorsing more expensive equipment without being able to justify the higher price point to their respective patients’ groups.

2. What is their story around this issue?
The key influencers wanted to find the best equipment to endorse to their patients’ groups but were cautious due to several substandard products they had tried in the past.

3. What is their identity and sense of self as tied to the issue?
The leaders of the patients’ groups take their responsibilities seriously by keeping up to date with the latest research and equipment available.

4. How are they the hero in their own story?
Bill’s key influencers know that they are in the front lines when it comes to pushing for a better quality of life for patients. Most of them have been directly or indirectly affected by the medical condition the equipment seeks to address and want to be part of the solution.

5. Why should they want to listen to your message and do what you want?
The leaders of the patients’ groups will benefit from hearing Bill’s take on the product’s quality. As the head of his organization, his message comes with a high degree of credibility, and the key influencers can share his message with confidence.

6. What obstacles would prevent them from listening to your message and doing what you want?
If Bill confirms that the medical equipment’s higher cost is, indeed, the main point of contention, he must address this issue. Otherwise, the key influencers will not listen to anything else he has to say.

7. How can you remove the obstacles to and increase rewards for them listening to you and doing what you want?
Bill decided that he would immediately address the price issue in his meeting with the key influencers. His plan was to discuss in detail how his organization’s innovative medical equipment was the best choice in terms of quality and warranty.

8. Who can give you useful feedback on your answers to the previous pre-engagement assessment questions?
I connected Bill with Jolinda, the leader of a well-organized patients’ group for more than a decade. Although her group represented the interests of patients with a different medical condition not relevant to the equipment made by Bill, she was willing to share her perspective as a key influencer.

Conclusion

As a quality professional, your relationship with your stakeholders will change over time, and you will face different issues at varying difficulty levels. However, by learning how to identify your key influencers and doing pre-assessment checks before engaging with them, you will be able to have productive discussions and grow deeper relationships.

To learn more, attend my upcoming webinar, “How Quality Professionals Can Engage Stakeholders Effectively Through Social Intelligence,” sponsored by Intelex, Feb. 25, 2021, 2 p.m. Eastern (11 a.m. Pacific), and available as a recording after that date.

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About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect quality leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (2019). His expertise comes from 20+ years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.