Skip to main content

Seven Ways to Dramatically Improve Stakeholder Consultations

I’ve done many stakeholder consultation projects for a variety of clients. Consultations are an important and growing component of aligning organizations, both public and private, with the community they represent or serve.

The simple, clearest reason for engaging with stakeholders is to make strategic and tactical decisions more effective and efficient. A purposeful engagement can make strategy a powerful tool because it’s about the stakeholder community, not just the service provider.

In the past they have tended to be viewed by some as a necessary encumbrance and, as such, may not have been effectively leveraged. Why? People will naturally tend to express their doubts and concerns when you ask for their opinion in an open forum. For a few, it’s a therapeutic opportunity to express their deep frustration. The voice of frustration tends to dominate and often sounds like that of many. It’s not. I remind you of my favorite line about angry voices; never wrestle with a pig – the pig enjoys the wrestling and you get dirty. When we discuss problems at any length it keeps the person in a state of being stuck. Our interest in their problem means we are not being helpful to them

The bottom line? The old model of taking too many of the complainers seriously simply slows progress. The good news is that progress is being made.

Here’s where I have seen consultations turn into powerful exercises (using Solutions Focus) to align communities and the organizations that have to make things happen.

  1. Be clear on higher outcomes. For example, a recent consultation was designed not only to actively listen to group of stakeholders largely at war among themselves, but also to let them listen to each other for the first time
  2. Pre-planning should involve a core group of the stakeholders to find out what outcomes they’d like to get. Make sure the stakeholder audience will know clearly what your goals are and tell them your point of view
  3. Allow the group a short period in every session to express their concerns, but don’t let a few people dominate. Other than their demands they usually cannot express what they actually want
  4. Better to ask the group what’s working at their level, how they are managing to cope despite the complexity (difficulties) and exceptions to the problem. Don’t skip asking what’s working but make it short – it’s the basis of helping them get unstuck;
  5. Turn to what needs to be different, or better in the future. Find out what the larger group has in common about what needs to get better. Start by asking, suppose more was working, what else would that be happening (for the community)? The key here is finding what they have in common as well as discrete needs.
  6. Get people thinking about actions by asking them what the larger group and some of the individual stakeholders might do to make progress right away. Don’t let them walk away thinking you are solely responsible for change
  7. Read back to the audience a long list of the purposeful things they said. Let them see you have been actively listening. Don’t promise lots of change, but instead offer progress – thanks to their input.

Help stakeholders make progress by engaging with them to notice what everyone has in common about the need. Help them see they can have a role in making it happen with the support of the organizing body. Stakeholder consultation is a key change tool that creates vibrant strategy.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Alan Kay is a change management consultant specializing in management development, strategic planning and customer experience implementation. As a former senior executive in the advertising and marketing communications industry, Alan was Managing Director of the high profile Toronto advertising agency, Harrod & Mirlin.

Since founding The Glasgow Group in 1994, his busy consulting practice counts a diverse group of Canada’s for-profit and nor-for-profit organizations among its clients. Strongly focused on accelerating strategic and human change using existing resources, Alan’s work is widely influenced by the theory and application of Solutions Focus which enables attitudinal and behavioural change within an organization. Some of his consulting work has been featured in the book, The Solutions Focus, by Paul Z. Jackson and Dr. Mark McKergow. Committed to sharing his knowledge and experience in marketing communications and strategic management, Alan also teaches executive development students at Schulich School of Business, York University. For further information, visit or contact Alan at [email protected].