Stakeholder Engagement for Strategic Planning

Stakeholder Engagement for Strategic Planning

We have known for decades that people who participate in decision-making that affects their work feel a higher degree of ownership and commitment to that work. We also know that where more people are involved in a joint process of common interest, the quality of output is higher.  The same is true of strategic planning.  High involvement in the process by a variety of stakeholders tends to generate better outcomes and a greater sense of ownership.  Many organizations are using broad engagement strategies to increase participation in and commitment to strategic planning.

Who should be engaged in the strategic planning process?  Key stakeholders to be involved in strategic planning are those having a vested interest in the success of the organization.  They include employees, unions, customers, vendors, shareholders, regulatory agencies, owners, supply chain partners, community members, and others who depend on and/or serve the organization.  Each has a unique perspective about what it will take for the organization to succeed.  External stakeholder opinions and insights are especially valuable in the early stages of planning where they add insight to understanding the operating environment, as well as to a vision of the organization’s future.  Employees know the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, often understand what gets in the way of success, and have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to deliver.

How do we engage stakeholders?  To build and support ongoing engagement in the strategic planning and implementation process, there are three important things to remember:

1.  Communicate, communicate, communicate!  The first rule of engagement is all about sharing information in a purposeful and consistent way.  All key stakeholders need to know the organization’s core purpose.  External stakeholders need to understand why the organization exists and what value it provides for its customers, vendors, and the market.  Internal stakeholders need to know where the organization is going so they can align their work with those goal(s) and direction.  To make sure this happens, use all communication means available – newsletters, electronic messaging, e-mail, meetings, posters, payroll inserts, etc.  Be consistent in the messages, and use them to show employees how they fit into the plan and how their contributions have helped shape the choices made.  Share the results they have achieved and coach them toward strategic performance. 

 Be visual, and make the messages visible everywhere.  I often create visual strategic roadmaps than can be posted throughout an organization to remind people of the importance of the company’s mission, vision, and strategies.  People who know what is expected and how they contribute are more engaged and committed than those who do not.

2.  Actively involve stakeholders in the process.  Ask for input about strategic planning in meetings, through surveys, with targeted suggestion boxes, in employee newsletters.  Include representatives of stakeholder groups in discussions for strategic planning to the greatest extent possible, and do not limit planning and review sessions only to the top level of management.  Include representatives from as many key stakeholder groups as are appropriate to the discussion at hand.  This can be done formally in large group planning activities, or informally by including different key stakeholders in a variety of meetings.  Use department meetings as an opportunity to solicit input on the plan and its results.  Help employees understand the difference between strategic initiatives (long-term, big picture) and the tactical (day-to-day) work with which they are most familiar.  Show them how the two levels are aligned.  Greater understanding leads to greater ownership.  Keep the messages flowing for constant reinforcement of the shared ideas, and give feedback on how ideas are being incorporated into the process.

3.  Make sure people know what the strategic plan is and where they fit in it.  Engaging employees in the planning process itself helps build ownership within the organization.  For those not directly involved in the process, however, make sure they know what the plan is, where they fit in it and how they contribute to its goals.  Give them time to discuss and internalize it.  Employees who do not understand the plan have a difficult time remaining engaged and moving in the desired direction.  Meet with work units and departments to show them how they contribute.  Develop measures of their work that show them how well they are contributing to desired strategic outcomes, and provide feedback on these measures frequently and consistently.  Do everything you can to make sure that the work of the organization is aligned with the plan to keep all employees focused on a common vision, working to achieve a common mission, and engaged in the process of achieving the organization’s strategic goals.  

It’s nearly impossible to get where you want to go without a goal, a roadmap, and organizational commitment to get you there.  Without a goal, you can’t align the organization to a common desired outcome.  Without a roadmap, you have no idea of the options available to get there.  And without commitment, you cannot ensure that your stakeholders will move in the direction you need to go.  Building commitment through broad stakeholder engagement is an increasingly important element of the strategic planning process.

By Dr. Pamela A. Posey.  Pam earned her doctorate at the Harvard Business School and her MBA at the University of California at Berkeley.  She is a former faculty member at the University of Washington's Graduate School of Business and an active consultant."

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