By Naomi Allen

“How do I get our senior managers to support our sustainability programme?” is one of the most frequent questions posed to Global Action Plan by sustainability professionals. This is our guide to senior stakeholder engagement, to help you remember best practice whilst in the thick of the daily hurly-burly.

  1. Be realistic about how many stakeholders you can engage

It can take serious effort to just schedule in a short meeting with a leader. And so whilst it is tempting to want all leaders to understand your plan, focusing on winning over the essential person, for your immediate initiative, can be most effective. For example, if reducing travel through flexi-working is your current priority, securing the backing of the HR Director should take precedence.

  1. Engage them early

Senior stakeholders tend to like to know what is happening as early as possible. A short note to a select group builds a relationship, especially if you’re not asking for help.

  1. Sell the business case

Senior stakeholders need to know the reason why you are doing something and what they will get out of it. Tell them about expected savings, colleague productivity and the benefits to the business. Find out what motivates the stakeholder and push this message.

  1. Tell them only what they need to know and when they need to know it

They are busy people and don’t need all the details, this is what executive summaries were made for! Tailor your message and the level of detail to the individual you are talking to; talking to Head of Marketing - What is the reach? Head of Operations – how much time is needed? Timing is key here too. When do you need to engage them? What are your crunch points? Think wisely about communication with the stakeholders and use that line of communication sparingly.

  1. What is your ask?

You have their attention now what?! Use this as an opportunity to ask the stakeholder something. Think about how you can do this.  For example be clear on the ask – do you want their public backing, do you need them to convene a meeting of middle managers for you, or do you want them to act as a reporting point for you to keep the directors informed of progress?

  1. Undertake stakeholder analysis

A good stakeholder map is your personal plan to building the most supportive network. The map should include a prioritisation of stakeholders according to their interest in your project and their power of influence. For the most interested and influential stakeholders, finding out how to act on their views, what information they want from you, and their (brutally) honest opinion about your work will help you to best collaborate with them.