Trust is the bedrock for building a strong relationship with stakeholders such as customers. Lack of trust weakens relationships. Betrayal of trust among stakeholders is so rampant that trust is becoming a rare commodity. Organizations struggling with the issue of trust in their relationship with stakeholders need to reassess what needs to be done, before it is too late.
Often companies tend to overlook the fundamental rule of stakeholder engagement: Engage to the degree you have to, to build trust. Most of the clients I deal with assume that as long as their stakeholders are informed, they are engaged. Often, these stakeholders need more than just being informed, they need to be consulted before a decision is made or involved in implementing a decision. The more crucial stakeholders are, the higher the intensity of participation in what is referred to as the informing to involving continuum.
For example, government decisions to impose certain regulations such as increasing the levy on recruitment of foreign nationals is met with very strong resistance from stakeholders, despite being informed in advance. Why is this so? Stakeholders involved were not consulted and their involvement in implementing the decision was not sought. Thy felt subdued by the powers held in the hands of a few that they do not trust and they revolt.
Likewise, companies that are obsessed with the belief that “management knows best”, often find themselves struggling with implementing plans. They may have informed their staff what is required but employees sometimes need to be consulted on whether it was in fact the best thing to do.
In a project review I was involved in, a major construction project for a hospital, was delayed, as the project team members, including the project manager was not consulted on whether the timeframe proposed for completion was realistic. Consequently, the project team was “convinced” that the time frame proposed was unrealistic and unattainable. The project was subsequently delayed due to lack of belief that the timeline proposed was achievable.
To build trust with stakeholders, I propose the following. Know who they are, what they expect, how much they are to be engaged and how this engagement is to be managed. Before any decision is to be made or action is to be taken that can affect stakeholders, use the 3 “C” rule: Communicate, Consult, Collaborate.
Communicate with all stakeholders differently depending on where they stand on the informing to involving continuum. The communication has to be clear, concise and complete in terms of what is proposed, why it is proposed and how it will benefit the stakeholders. This communication should be as far as possible a two-way communication process to elicit views of the stakeholders.
Consulting with stakeholders on the best way to implement the decision based on what they think is right is crucial. They will feel important and begin to feel trusted enough to propose a way forward. Taking their views in consideration means building trust both ways. The company trusts the stakeholders enough to suggest the way forward and the stakeholders trust that the decision proposed is made with their best interest in mind.
Collaborating with stakeholders has to be something that is natural, not something that has to be done for fear of a backlash. If collaboration is sought out of a genuine desire for mutual benefit, this sort of collaboration will ultimately lead to mutual respect and trust. The collaborative effort will gradually morph into partnership based on trust.
In summary stakeholder engagement is a very crucial aspect of stakeholder management. Engaging stakeholders requires a great deal of trust between stakeholders. The trust serves as a bedrock upon which engagement can occur. Anything that leads to mistrust derails efforts made to engage and in fact, disengagement occurs. It becomes an uphill struggle to build trust when trust is broken. To build trust it is necessary to gradually navigate the relationship on the basis of communication, consultation and collaboration.