A Case for Engaging Your Stakeholders in Significant Change
I am a 2000 graduate of Mary Baldwin College (now Mary Baldwin University). This week my college proudly announced several new programs and as part of this news release they also quietly announced they were changing the residential environment from single sex to co-educational. This post is not about my personal feelings around this change, instead it is a cautionary message about the importance of recognizing and involving stakeholders in change. Whether your stakeholders are alumnus, partners, donors, or staff you must value their experience of you and be sensitive to their feelings, even if it won't change the reality of your situation. Spending time to genuinely involve people in decision-making will always strengthen your organization in the long run.
What Went Wrong
ISSUE: Limited communication with a core constituent group prior to making a significant change
DO INSTEAD: Involve stakeholders through email, in person visits, and focus groups.
Talk to them and explain your challenges. Seek their ideas and feedback and enlist their help in problem solving. Committed groups often need a personal invitation to get involved. Of course this takes time and resources but it can pay off significantly in the long run.
ISSUE: Unprepared for a significant backlash from constituent groups
DO INSTEAD: While more open communication from the beginning may alleviate this situation, enlisting the help of communication specialists outside of your organization is essential. It is important that you have an impartial and external guide to help you think through all of the challenges and opportunities. Be prepared with detailed frequently asked questions, opportunities to give feedback, and an active and robust social media management plan.
ISSUE: Shutting down social media comments
DO INSTEAD: While you may delete comments that are hateful or violate your code of conduct, silencing upset constituents only increases their anger. For more information concerning managing your social media in difficult times, check out this blog post on crisis communications.
At the end of the day, your organization is tasked with long-term sustainability. You must make business decisions that are well thought out and based in fact. Spending the time on the front end to engage your closest stakeholders in your strategies is perhaps more important than the plan you hope to execute. Because, it seems fair to say, if your plan is controversial enough to upset a major portion of your stakeholders, you probably need their support and guidance more than ever.
Over the last few days since the announcement alumnae have mobilized on twitter, instagram, facebook (closed group), and behind the scenes. They are passionate and angry. We will only have to watch and see what they are able to accomplish, but what if they had been working for the University all along?