You hear the term ‘stakeholder engagement’ a lot these days, but it is overrated. In the same way that communication is meant to be two-way and enable productive business relationships, so too it is with engagement. Indeed, if engagement activities by your rural services body are one-way communication rebadged, you could be damaging rather than enriching business relationships.
If your organisation exists to lead innovation and change and create value for rural stakeholders, then you will know that a robust technical case is the easy part. It is trusted relationships that are the key enabler of innovation for rural industry services bodies (farmer organisations, rural R&D corporations, natural resource management bodies and so on).
Your breakthroughs and successes will be forged on the quality of relationships with stakeholders. It is what enables you to be an organisation of real influence, where you understand what is needed and valued and are able to get buy-in for new ideas and reforms.
If you believe that your organisation creates value through the quality of its relationships, then it follows that success depends on excellence in asking and listening, not assuming and telling.
Here, the biggest pitfall is to believe you already know what your stakeholders need.
When aligning your strategy, marketing plans and services, you need to look at things from your stakeholders’ standpoint. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail. You already know this, but are you actually doing it?
If your team has assessed the problem or opportunity for your stakeholders and responding involves others buying-in and taking action, then it’s important that they feel their views have been heard. Success is not simply dependent on whether you are technically right.
For example, think about the ongoing public controversy around climate change and about water reform in the Murray Darling Basin.
If you want to transform your business relationships and become an organisation of real influence, start by transforming how your organisation listens.