Mergers or acquisitions are challenging. Having a deliberate strategy to understand and engage stakeholders will dramatically increase your chances of success. Here is a short, three-step roadmap for how to approach this.
After a seismic shift in your market or within your own organization – like a change in leadership, a merger, or a large acquisition, changes can be unsettling to your stakeholders.
Even as you interact with stakeholders on a regular basis, having a nuanced understanding of their preferences and challenges cannot be taken for granted.
However, after a merger the landscape has changed, and your circle of stakeholders has likely grown significantly – perhaps you are suddenly big enough to warrant significant interest from the broader media, or you pop up on the union’s radar.
You cannot assume that your stakeholders will look at you the same. Perhaps an important small supplier is suddenly worried that you are going to leverage your newfound purchasing power which can hurt their business or perhaps you need to interact with new regulatory bodies. All these situations can be challenging.
Also, very importantly how will your stakeholders perceive the new leadership team? Your stakeholders will have many opinions and will be watching closely to see which directions you choose to take. Understanding their expectations, reservations, hopes and fears will help you navigate and stay several steps ahead as you move forward in your new reality.
How to approach stakeholders
You need to understand and analyze your stakeholders with intention. Before you engage with anybody, you should know what you want to learn, who is important to you and why, and inside your own organization who should be involved. Engaging stakeholders without a focus, without internal ownership, or indiscriminately is not the way to go about it. A good roadmap is crucial and knowing how to manage your stakeholders is also extremely important. Below is our three-step roadmap guide to help you frame vital messaging to your stakeholders.
Three-step roadmap to stakeholder engagement
The first step is mapping: Who’s important to us and why? Who’s responsible for each relationship inside your organization? This sounds simple and you should keep it as simple as possible, but you might be amazed at how there can be several different answers to this – or no answer at all. Especially right after a merger.
Getting a unified overview of who ‘owns’ each stakeholder group is also valuable and can sometimes be a point of contention or confusion which can hamper stakeholder dialogue.
Ideally, you want to map out your stakeholder landscape to a point where each group is distinct and with strategic relevance to you. Big or very diverse stakeholder groups (perhaps like your customers) might sensibly be divided into subgroups.
The second step is understanding: What are the important questions to ask? How does each stakeholder group potentially impact our strategic goals (positively or negatively), and which themes will they have opinions about? How are we changing and what input can we benefit from going forward?
A stakeholder analysis is best done as qualitative research but is never randomly exploratory. It is important to structure the inquiry to make sure the analysis gets real, relevant, and valid answers. Focusing the analysis requires careful preparation and typically the involvement of a broad range of internal stakeholders.
The third step is engaging: Conducting the actual interviews takes practice and skill to establish trust and mutual respect, and to maximize learning. You should aim to do at least 2-3 interviews with each stakeholder group, and ideally more if the groups are very diverse. You can never achieve a completely representative analysis, but try to cover as many bases as possible, and try to avoid a selection bias by avoiding stakeholders known to be very critical – those are probably the most important ones to include.
Orchestrating the entire process is an opportunity to send a positive signal: You’re listening and you care. That is a great look on most organizations, but it is important not to waste people’s time. Reaching out also creates expectations. Address these expectations by following up with them after you have decided on what to do going forward. Share some of your insights. Let them know you appreciate their input, their candor – and use the opportunity to further develop and mature your relationship.
A stakeholder analysis is just a steppingstone and a tool that can help you navigate. You should decide on a detailed plan for your stakeholder communication to ensure that you showcase your responsiveness and that the organization addresses any critical issues or concerns. The plan should set goals for each stakeholder group and should align with your overall communication strategy in terms of audiences, messaging, and specific activities.
Our final word of advice: While it is important to have a roadmap and a structured approach, the key to engaging with your stakeholders is to listen. So, do not get too caught up in your own agenda, and make sure to put people in charge of the process who master the skill of listening.