Stakeholders Are Not Your Enemy
At Tendo, we work with a lot of different clients on a lot of different projects—which means a lot of different stakeholders. No matter how big or small a project is, there’s always a stakeholder—or two. Or three. There are our clients, who are our stakeholders, as well as their stakeholders, and their stakeholders…
In a word, they’re everywhere and the stereotype has it that stakeholders are difficult to deal with. That doesn’t have to be the case. We’ve got some tips about how you can make your partnership harmonious and productive:
Get on the same page
“Content” and “strategy” are broad and often-misused terms that mean different things to different people. This definitely applies to “content strategy.”
Establishing common terminology and definitions is the bedrock of stakeholder communications. Learn what your stakeholders mean when they say “content.” Are they just talking about the words? Or are they also factoring in video, social channels, and other customer touchpoints? If they’re not sure what they mean, provide them with your POV—and do this before you do the work.
Success with stakeholders entails—you guessed it—making them successful. Get to know your stakeholders by asking as many questions as you can. Put yourself in their shoes. Are they excited about the project? Are they lost? Do they want to position themselves as the expert? Do they just want this (and you) to go away?
Take a minute to figure out their motivation(s) and what makes them tick. Learn what success means to them specifically. Each stakeholder may have different objectives and measure success in varying ways.
This one’s really important. I saw a tweet recently from Confab that quoted the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something.”
It seems obvious, I know. But active listening is hard. It’s an art form that requires effort and skill. Listen, I mean really listen, to what your stakeholders say—and, more importantly, what they don’t say.
If something’s murky, ask questions. Repeat the answers. Be clearer than you think you need to be. Don’t assume you understand the information (and implications), confirm it.
You and your colleagues might live and breathe content. (That’s definitely the case at Tendo.) But not all stakeholders do.
Educate them about your goals, why you’re reaching out to them, and why this content matters. Or, if it’s their project and it’s extra to every other responsibility they have, be as helpful as you can. Put on your best client-services hat and think about what would make the project easier for your client. What information do they need to educate internally and make the work successful?
Sometimes stakeholders know what they want, sometimes they think they know, and other times they have no idea.
Understand when to essentially be an order-taker and when to be an active participant leading the client. Find that situational fluency—know when to push and when to pull back.
Don’t be a grump
OK, maybe you won’t technically be holding hands around a campfire singing kumbaya and gushing about how much you appreciate each other. BUT. Stakeholders are not your enemies!
To quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Don’t let yourself be part of that problem. For more tactical tips on creative collaboration with stakeholders, read this post. If you’re a stakeholder yourself, check out our post on how to get the most out of your content marketing agency.
(Special thanks to my colleagues Chris Zender, Paul Costanza, and Danie Taylor for their input.)