The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way that we work; time will tell if working habits and norms ever go “back to normal”. In the meantime, there have been a lot of lessons learned about how to best engage with stakeholders in a more virtual way. Here are 10 tips and tricks to help navigate successful stakeholder engagement in today’s climate:
- Schedule shorter meetings. Having video conference calls all day long is exhausting. Consider scheduling a 45-minute meeting instead of an hour to give your stakeholders (and yourself!) time for a bio break, time to stretch, or time to organize for the next meeting.
- Schedule less meetings, and only invite those who will be active participants. Let’s face it, there are too many meetings! Be thoughtful about who you put on the invite as required attendees. If you have stakeholders that need to be informed but aren’t decision-makers, provide decision points and relevant information as a follow-up to the meeting.
- Be human. Ask your stakeholder how they are doing (in a genuine way of course). If their kids or dogs are wrapped around their neck, show some empathy and understanding. If COVID-19 has done one positive thing, it has brought humanity back to the corporate culture. Even the most senior executives are faced with interruptions and unplanned situations.
- Don’t jump immediately into meeting content. Directly related to 1,2, and 3 above. Take a pause, check-in, talk about the weather, or your stakeholder’s hobby. Talk about literally anything. But take a minute or two to connect.
- Be present. Put your camera on. Put your mobile phone down. Do your best not to get distracted. (admittedly difficult if you are like me and got a COVID-puppy….)
- Watch body language. To gauge how your stakeholder may be feeling or reacting to the information you are sharing, watch body language. Does your stakeholder cross their arms when unhappy? Maybe they disengage and get quiet. On the positive side, perhaps they are smiling (always a good thing). Be aware of changing emotions and adjust what and how you are delivering your messages accordingly.
- Allow time for flexibility in your agenda. It is easy to get caught up in a mode where you just want to get through your own materials and check off the items on your list in terms of feedback or decisions you may need from your stakeholders. Allow time in the agenda to ask your stakeholder how they are feeling about progress, what else they need right now, or simply what’s on their mind. This always leads to open dialogue and active engagement, letting your stakeholders will know you are listening to them.
- Still have those coffee chats – just virtual! It is a good practice to periodically have more informal check-ins with your stakeholders. You may talk about work, or you may talk about how the Cubs are being back to loveable losers. Having no agenda allows for open dialogue and helps increase engagement.
- Pick up the phone. Just as my teenagers have all conversations via text, it is really easy to fall into the same trap at work with emails and IM’s. As a rule, if a topic goes back and forth 3 times, it is worth a conversation. Instead of sending one more message, pick up the phone and make a call; human interaction is good!
- Keep some humor. Everyone is so serious these days. It’s OK to bring a little levity to stakeholder conversations, and most will welcome it.
Positive and ongoing active stakeholder engagement is a must to meet and exceed delivery expectations! Following these tips will help you keep your stakeholders engaged in a virtual world. For an in-depth look at Stakeholder Management in Program and Project Management, check out my book, “Stakeholder Engagement: The Game Changer for Program Management” Available on Amazon Here.