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Understanding and collaborating with stakeholders: 5 ways to work better together

Understanding and collaborating with stakeholders: 5 ways to work better together

3 minute read

Understanding and collaborating with stakeholders: 5 ways to work better together

3 minute read

Understanding and collaborating with stakeholders: 5 ways to work better together

Brittney Dunkins

Content Designer, Facebook
We were one month into a university content project, when, during a weekly call with a remote client, I heard the words every content strategist dreads: “I’m just not sure how long the approval process is going to take.”

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Like many content strategists, web designers and UX architects, I have had nightmares about the approval process. Because I know—like you—that it can mean the end of project efficiency. It can be the arbiter of scope creep. The death knell for a once positive, creative and dynamic working relationship.

Ok, so maybe that is melodramatic. But it’s not untrue. From my experience, the fear of the approval process is rooted in three common beliefs:

  1. Collaboration is impossible
  2. Strategy doesn’t work
  3. We can’t get anything done

These negative perceptions tend to govern how content strategy teams make decisions, and as a result they can stop your team from pushing to develop more creative content and pursue new opportunities.

They are most difficult to overcome at the start and end of a project because both of these phases are focused on gaining buy-in from colleagues and clients.

Left unchecked, you can reach your launch period and suddenly hear the following derailing statements from stakeholders:

"I think this creative is out of touch with our mission. I don’t see the value in this approach. We should hold off until we have a better idea."

But as Pia Silver writes in Forbes, "bad clients are your fault" and it's your job to fix things. The same goes for the approval process. If you're proactive and know what to do, the situation can be drastically improved.

" 'Bad' clients—clients who are annoying, clients who are hounding you, clients who are needy—are just a manifestation of your mismanaged expectations and poor communication."
Pia Silver
Partner & Brand Strategist, Worstofall Design

💡 See also: How to provide feedback on content to find out how to give feedback that actually helps

The importance of navigating people and negotiating content

So how do we fix the negative perception?

We know that content strategy is made up of two things: content and people. I’ve learned that the approval process is where those two things meet or, in a common scenario, clash. Our job as content strategists is to navigate the people side of things while negotiating the content side of things.

‍Navigating people means understanding who your stakeholders are and what they want. By doing so, you show stakeholders how the project adds value to their work, their team, and their company.

Once you know how to collaborate with stakeholders, then you begin negotiating content. This is the push and pull period where creative content and strategic decision-making is pitted against institutional roadblocks and personal conflicts.

Five ways to better understand and collaborate with stakeholders

Like most things, content strategy starts with people.

1. Research your stakeholders

Assuming you have a project goal in mind, the first step toward better collaboration in the approval process is identifying stakeholders and their roles. Understanding who you are working with is critical to collaborating effectively.

💡 See also: Stakeholder Interview Matrix: A template with some handy starter questions.

2. Identify what is at stake for everyone

Every stakeholder is involved in the project for a different reason. Use their role and motivation to your advantage.

For example, if you are working with graphic designers, consider including them in every conversation that relates to design—not just those explicitly regarding design choices. Why? Because they will be affected by the decisions made in those conversations.

‍3. Learn each stakeholder’s language

Communicating effectively with stakeholders is linked to their motivation. For example, for decision-makers, every project is an investment because they are typically responsible for allocating project resources. In order to collaborate effectively, you should discuss content strategy in relation to ROI.

‍4. Set specific expectations for everyone

Once you know who stakeholders are, what they want, and how to talk to them, you can better articulate your expectations for their involvement.

For example, a subject matter expert should know exactly when they need to offer knowledge for the project and also how and in what form they should provide feedback. Feedback can double the time allotted for a project, so be as specific as possible on how feedback will be evaluated and incorporated.

5. Show how stakeholder input is put to work

‍Stakeholders can become frustrated if they don’t feel “heard.” I know, I know, this isn’t a therapy session. But helping stakeholders to see how their input was incorporated or even why it was rejected is essential. It makes them an active part of decision-making without letting them make the decision.

What are the other steps to high-quality content?

Getting the most out of your stakeholders is just one part of the content puzzle. There's always more at play when there's a team involved.

How do you pass on the information you get from your stakeholders to everyone else on the project? How do you link it up with other research documents in a way visible to the whole team?

GatherContent's platform enables you to do this and much more thanks to its powerful collaborative technology.

Read more on how GatherContent can level up your whole team's approach to content.

Like many content strategists, web designers and UX architects, I have had nightmares about the approval process. Because I know—like you—that it can mean the end of project efficiency. It can be the arbiter of scope creep. The death knell for a once positive, creative and dynamic working relationship.

Ok, so maybe that is melodramatic. But it’s not untrue. From my experience, the fear of the approval process is rooted in three common beliefs:

  1. Collaboration is impossible
  2. Strategy doesn’t work
  3. We can’t get anything done

These negative perceptions tend to govern how content strategy teams make decisions, and as a result they can stop your team from pushing to develop more creative content and pursue new opportunities.

They are most difficult to overcome at the start and end of a project because both of these phases are focused on gaining buy-in from colleagues and clients.

Left unchecked, you can reach your launch period and suddenly hear the following derailing statements from stakeholders:

"I think this creative is out of touch with our mission. I don’t see the value in this approach. We should hold off until we have a better idea."

But as Pia Silver writes in Forbes, "bad clients are your fault" and it's your job to fix things. The same goes for the approval process. If you're proactive and know what to do, the situation can be drastically improved.

" 'Bad' clients—clients who are annoying, clients who are hounding you, clients who are needy—are just a manifestation of your mismanaged expectations and poor communication."
Pia Silver
Partner & Brand Strategist, Worstofall Design

💡 See also: How to provide feedback on content to find out how to give feedback that actually helps

The importance of navigating people and negotiating content

So how do we fix the negative perception?

We know that content strategy is made up of two things: content and people. I’ve learned that the approval process is where those two things meet or, in a common scenario, clash. Our job as content strategists is to navigate the people side of things while negotiating the content side of things.

‍Navigating people means understanding who your stakeholders are and what they want. By doing so, you show stakeholders how the project adds value to their work, their team, and their company.

Once you know how to collaborate with stakeholders, then you begin negotiating content. This is the push and pull period where creative content and strategic decision-making is pitted against institutional roadblocks and personal conflicts.

Five ways to better understand and collaborate with stakeholders

Like most things, content strategy starts with people.

1. Research your stakeholders

Assuming you have a project goal in mind, the first step toward better collaboration in the approval process is identifying stakeholders and their roles. Understanding who you are working with is critical to collaborating effectively.

💡 See also: Stakeholder Interview Matrix: A template with some handy starter questions.

2. Identify what is at stake for everyone

Every stakeholder is involved in the project for a different reason. Use their role and motivation to your advantage.

For example, if you are working with graphic designers, consider including them in every conversation that relates to design—not just those explicitly regarding design choices. Why? Because they will be affected by the decisions made in those conversations.

‍3. Learn each stakeholder’s language

Communicating effectively with stakeholders is linked to their motivation. For example, for decision-makers, every project is an investment because they are typically responsible for allocating project resources. In order to collaborate effectively, you should discuss content strategy in relation to ROI.

‍4. Set specific expectations for everyone

Once you know who stakeholders are, what they want, and how to talk to them, you can better articulate your expectations for their involvement.

For example, a subject matter expert should know exactly when they need to offer knowledge for the project and also how and in what form they should provide feedback. Feedback can double the time allotted for a project, so be as specific as possible on how feedback will be evaluated and incorporated.

5. Show how stakeholder input is put to work

‍Stakeholders can become frustrated if they don’t feel “heard.” I know, I know, this isn’t a therapy session. But helping stakeholders to see how their input was incorporated or even why it was rejected is essential. It makes them an active part of decision-making without letting them make the decision.

What are the other steps to high-quality content?

Getting the most out of your stakeholders is just one part of the content puzzle. There's always more at play when there's a team involved.

How do you pass on the information you get from your stakeholders to everyone else on the project? How do you link it up with other research documents in a way visible to the whole team?

GatherContent's platform enables you to do this and much more thanks to its powerful collaborative technology.

Read more on how GatherContent can level up your whole team's approach to content.

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About the author

Brittney Dunkins

Brittney Dunkins is a Content Designer at Facebook. Brittney is a writer, editor, strategist and content designer.

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