“If Only They Understood…” Four Signs That An Organisation Needs To Improve Community Engagement Approach.

“If Only They Understood…” Four Signs That An Organisation Needs To Improve Community Engagement Approach.

After years of experience working across community and stakeholder engagement projects, I’ve found there are many signs that indicate an organisation needs to improve its approach to Community and Stakeholder Engagement.

Of course, one of the biggest signs is the lack of any policy or strategy in the area, but even organisations with these in place, can be guilty of allowing the behaviour below. The tell-tale signs are in the organisational culture and attitude toward involving community and stakeholders in the business. This includes their standard approach, how their staff interact (or don’t interact at all) with external stakeholders, and bad behaviour that is tolerated.

Here are four of the big signs:

Staff say… ”I haven’t got time to do this.”

This is the opposite of the attitude your staff should have, which should be talking to people as partners, and building enduring relationships to deliver resilience and outcomes. If instead, staff are saying that they can’t give two days of their week to talk to people, then your company has some work to do in elevating the importance and benefit of talking to, and involving people from, outside your organisation.

There’s one approach to fit all situations.
If your approach to engagement is to put out a media release, hold an information session, and push out a survey, then this is you.

Good community and stakeholder engagement comes from great planning – understanding who you are engaging with, and why. Then developing a strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.

Staff say… “but we already know what they are going to say.”
This is one of my favourites, and always fun when we find the opposite is true, or staff at least learn some valuable things.

Staff say… “If they only understood… they’d realise we were right”.

I feel this one is closely related to the one above. It is a fear of letting others in to our decision making, or simply an inability to listen.

I imagine this is one that community and stakeholder engagement professionals hear the most. I would certainly like to have a dollar for every time I have heard it -my coffee habit would be taken care of for at least a month I think!

Unfortunately, the undertone here is that community and stakeholders aren’t very bright, need to be educated, and have nothing to add to the projects and decisions that impact them.

If you hear and or see these trends in your organisation, it is a sure sign that your culture of engagement needs work. Some of the solutions include:

  • Learn about leadership and change management. If you work in community and stakeholder engagement, two things are true about your role. One is that you are a leader and the other is that you are a change manager.
  • Develop a publicly accountable strategy.
  • Work with your leadership team to improve their capability and approach to engagement.
  • Research with internal and external stakeholders to find out the best way to discuss, and approach engagement.
  • Work closely with some champions, so you can push boundaries and build case studies.

That’s just four of the signs, but there are many more of course. What do you think are some of the indicators?