Your Stakeholders Will Be Thankful You Asked These Questions

Developing a great relationship with your organization’s stakeholders is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Stakeholders can be anyone from your business partners to your suppliers, and the way you need to engage with them will change over time.

Getting to know your stakeholders and engaging with them effectively benefits your organization and can result in stronger financials and a boost in productivity. On the other hand, ignoring the needs of your stakeholders can have disastrous effects, such as low employee morale or a dismal bottom line.

Ineffective engagement with an organization’s stakeholders can lead to blind spots for managers and executives, and these can have a dire effect on an organization’s growth. Fortunately, there are research-based strategies that you can use to notice such blind spots so that you can overcome them.

Identify Your Key Influencers

While your first gut instinct might be to start engaging with all your stakeholders immediately, it would be better to focus on the relationships that have, or will have, the most impact on your organization. Although it might seem ideal to try to solve the issues raised by all your stakeholders, limited time and resources mean that it will be more practical for you to address a targeted list.

When trying to determine who your key influencers are, look for the stakeholders who have the most significant impact on your organization’s growth. This means that the long-term success of your organization depends in large part to a good relationship with these individuals or groups.

In addition, key influencers are the stakeholders who cannot easily be replaced, such as a time-tested supplier or a top-performing department. Finally, you can tell that a stakeholder is a key influencer when your goals and their desired results are aligned. This means that the organization-stakeholder relationship is mutual.

Just recently, Bill, one of my coaching clients and a healthcare entrepreneur, contacted me to ask for advice. For more than a year, he and his senior management team have been trying to encourage patient groups to adopt his organization’s innovative medical equipment. However, they had not gained enough traction.

Bill suspected that the patient groups’ hesitation could be due to the fact that his organization’s products were more expensive than its competitors. Bill’s first instinct was to do one-on-one outreach to key influencers, but he was having trouble identifying who he should engage with first.

When I checked Bill’s list of forty influencers, I saw that he had included a wide variety of people, and not all of them had a key decision-making role in shaping the advocacy efforts of patient’s groups. Bill and I trimmed the list down to just eight leaders of patient groups who had many similar priorities and concerns. As a result, Bill was able to come up with a better plan to engage with them.

Before You Engage, Conduct a Pre-Engagement Assessment Using These 8 Questions

Don’t jump in unprepared. Do a pre-engagement check before engaging with your key influencers. This will lead to a better, productive discourse.

Otherwise, you might fall into the dangerous judgment error known as the false consensus effect, where you assume other people are more similar to you and more inclined to do what you want them to do than is really the case. The false consensus effect is just one out of over one-hundred mental blind spots that scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases.

The questions below are informed by cutting-edge neuroscience research on how to address these cognitive biases, along with my own experience of over two decades coaching and training leaders on stakeholder engagement.

  1. What are their feelings, values, goals, and incentives around this issue?
  2. What is their story around this issue?
  3. What is their identity and sense of self as tied to the issue?
  4. How are they the hero in their own story?
  5. Why should they want to listen to your message and do what you want?
  6. What obstacles would prevent them from listening to your message and doing what you want?
  7. How can you remove the obstacles to and increase the rewards for them listening to you and doing what you want?
  8. Who do you know that can give you useful feedback on your answers to the previous pre-engagement assessment questions?


Effective engagement with your stakeholders entails getting to know them and understanding their needs. Coming up with a list of key influencers will lead to a more targeted approach and better discourse, and doing a pre-engagement assessment paves the way to productive meetings.

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