12 ways for managers to understand what stakeholders want

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Every business has various stakeholders, from customers and investors to employees. Every group of stakeholders expects something different from the company, and it’s important to keep them all satisfied.

The Business Journals

The first step to satisfying stakeholders is understanding what they want. Here, 12 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss how managers can get a better understanding of what internal and external stakeholders want.

1. Solicit feedback in a safe manner.
Solicit feedback in a manner that feels safe to internal and external stakeholders. Focus the questions to ensure that feedback is targeted. Open-ended or vague questions discourage interest in responding because it doesn’t support real change. Finally, be open and welcoming to the feedback by providing a post-feedback follow-up so that internal and external stakeholders know you value their time. – Chelsea Suttmann, Barulich Dugoni & Suttmann Law Group, Inc.

2. Hold sensitive info in confidence.
When it comes to understanding what internal and external stakeholders want, need and expect from the C-suite, there is no substitute for listening. However, just being present to listen alone is not enough. You have to hold sensitive information in confidence, make timely and transparent leadership decisions with feedback and be engaged authentically for the long haul. – Carrie Collins-Fadell, Brain Injury Alliance

3. Talk through expected results.
Talk through the job to be done or the expected results. Many times it’s difficult to articulate what internal and external stakeholders want, so doing this can be more effective in understanding the desired outcomes. – Jawad Shaikh, Avelead

4. Have authentic conversations.
Ask them! We spend so much time assuming the wants of our stakeholders when personally asking them can be so meaningful. Having authentic and transparent conversations moves relationships forward in a sustainable and positive manner. – Lelia Kramer, Saint Ursula Academy

5. Keep constant communication.
There is no shortcut, social media or survey-based answer here. Constant communication is the only method to understand other people better, whether in a business, personal, internal or external setting. The fact that it’s hard work and most people won’t do it will set you — and your company — apart for years to come. – Daniel Sweet, Sweetview Partners, Inc.

6. Spend time for honest feedback.
Spend time with team members/staff, clients and referral sources to solicit honest feedback. Start the conversation with kind words about how important the stakeholder’s viewpoint is and then ask for thoughts on what’s working, what needs improvement and if they see opportunities worthy of consideration. Consider offering some kind of small gift as a “thank you” for their valuable time. – Wendy Merrill, Affinity Consulting Group

7. Create thought-provoking questions.
Research of existing stakeholders and potential stakeholders is key, but don’t just ask the standard “ranking” questions on satisfaction. Create thought-provoking, open-ended questions, such as “How can we improve our relationship?” or “What’s one thing we could do differently?” Engage face-to-face when possible, as what is on a survey is rarely the same as what you get in a two-way conversation. – Hinda Mitchell, Inspire PR Group

8. Hold bi-weekly/monthly meetings.
We call it a management operating system. This is a regular cadence of one-on-ones and/or team meetings with stakeholders that impact each other. For instance, the sales and marketing teams should sit down on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to discuss what’s working or not. As soon as these regular meetings start to wane, then misalignment starts to creep in and conflict arises. – Gary Braun, Pivotal Advisors, LLC

9. Have regular metrics meetings.
Holding quarterly and yearly meetings where you agree on metrics, one-year and three-year goals are key to getting alignment across the board. It also ensures everyone has clear goals and action items. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Identify who serves each stakeholder.
We conduct live or surrogate stakeholder analyses delving into who are the stakeholders, why each one needs this team to be aligned and how each stakeholder measures the team’s success. This exercise reveals a team’s purpose and sets the stage for shaping and strengthening the drivers of team effectiveness. – Kim Baker, Vivid Performance Group

11. Practice active listening.
Practice active listening, and take notes. Leaders take notes, listening and ensuring they have heard what their counterpart is talking about. If you focus on listening, you will understand what your stakeholders really want. – David Wescott, Transblue

12. Get ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experience.
If you want to keep your pulse on what’s happening, take a walk in their shoes. Getting a “boots-on-the-ground” experience with your stakeholders can help you understand what’s working and what needs help. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

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