The expression ‘evolve or die’ always felt a little over-the-top to me, in terms of organizations needing to better align with the times, but now I say it with conviction. If your organization isn’t paying attention to the changes in online behaviour, it will undoubtedly be left behind – especially when it comes to stakeholder consultation and engagement.
Ask any leader what the single biggest uncontrollable change-agent has been over the past 5-10 years, and they’ll unanimously say “the Internet”. This medium has not only changed how we communicate, but the speed in which we do so, and the expectations that have been ingrained amongst us as a result. Look no further than the nature of social media as evidence to this immediacy. Like it or not, increasingly, we live in a world of real-time immediacy and instant gratification. There’s also a growing expectation when it comes to organizational business development and decision making, that stakeholders have a say and want to see action… now!
With public emphasis on implementing decisions, there’s no time for lengthy meetings, drawn-out proposals, or over-planning. But this doesn’t have to mean the quality of decisions or planning is at stake, if you evolve alongside your stakeholders and embrace the fact that our constituents want (and expect) to be involved in larger-scale online consultations, as a way to inform important strategic decisions.
Here are three notable ways that stakeholder expectations have evolved.
Convenience and comfort is everything
The expectation is that efforts to consult or engage with the community will meet the community member’s timelines, geography (digital and analog places) and needs. Anyone familiar with learner centered models of student engagement will recognize the similarities here. Differentiated and personalized learning have long been recognized as the gold-standard in teaching. So it’s no surprise this model is also fast-becoming the gold-standard in community consultation and engagement.
As leaders, we shouldn’t assume that our stakeholder communities will bend to our needs and desires. In fact the opposite is true. We need to cater to their needs and consult with them:
- When it’s convenient for them, 24/7
- In environments they feel safe and comfortable in, both on and offline
- In ways that make sense to them, using familiar language
Immediacy: I want it and I want it now!
We have evolved into a culture that expects immediacy. This is a cultural shift that can be seen in our daily behaviour. We microwave and fast forward through our lives regardless of the strategies in place to slow us down. The revolution of the phone, outpaced by text-messages. Backpacking adventures across the globe, outplayed by instant adrenalin-infused urban recreation. Let’s face it, instant gratification has permeated our lives. It’s become a part of our culture, and as we all know, culture trumps strategy every time.
The media industry is a great example of this principle in practice. With the proliferation of social media sites and tools, the days of networks strategically controlling how and when news enters our living room, have long passed. Instead, the power of collective and social media has reinforced the belief that news be made available as it happens. And if the media doesn’t provide immediate and accurate information, the public will simply go to the source – underscoring the evolution of this new mental model.
Of course this expectation doesn’t stop at world headlines and politics, effecting virtually every sector. And leaders who sit on results, decisions or information, are finding their impatient constituents have little tolerance for tardiness. Lesson learned? Embrace technology: engage often, through multiple mediums, and implement a process that allows you to report back quickly.
Transparency isn’t a fad
Transparency is not just one of last year’s most notable buzzwords. In many sectors, including government and education, transparency is law. We know that districts are required by law to share data like financial records, however the public’s expectation goes well beyond this. In the minds of the community, transparency is a dynamic activity that involves information, process and outcome sharing. Initiatives like Open Government and participatory budgeting are increasing citizens’ awareness and expectations about transparency; which have trickled down to all publicly funded sectors like education and healthcare.
As many great leaders have discovered, increasing transparency amongst stakeholders is not just a way to meet expectations, but more importantly, it’s an invaluable tool for increasing public confidence, trust, support and buy-in. And what leader – in any sector – wouldn’t want that?
At Thoughtexchange, we’ve long-since embraced both technology and transparency as a way to move our organization forward and gain buy-in on important business decisions. In fact, not only have our customers been enjoying the “Starring” feature of our software and process – as way to enable stakeholder thoughts and perspectives to be openly considered and prioritized – but so have our employees, as we seek to engage them in important strategic decisions that affect them.
How has your stakeholder consultation process evolved?