How to Understand the Mindset of Your Stakeholders

October 2020
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So far in 2020, our world seems intent on careening from one type of chaos to another. When things are this overwhelmingly out of joint, there is a natural tendency among communicators to keep quiet. After all, emotions are high — we are overloaded with information, and every communication seems fraught. Why risk the backlash?

Of course, we understand that perspective, but we don’t agree with it. The proper understanding of your key stakeholders’ emotional journey through any crisis can provide the insight you need to craft effective communications, in the proper channels, with the right content, benefiting your brand and your stakeholders simultaneously.

Here are some ways to monitor the mindsets of your stakeholders: 

Avoiding deepening isolation

Crises can be profoundly isolating, even without a lockdown. People can retreat into their own private spaces, seeking shelter from bad news and difficult circumstances. While this can be beneficial in the short term, too much of it can worsen our lives and hurt our health. As communicators, we can provide people with a valuable connection to the world, especially when we understand how they feel.

You might not be a friend, a family member or even an acquaintance of your customer, but that doesn’t mean you should be out of touch with them. Given the increased time people spend on their digital devices while isolating from the rest of the world, you might be one of the few voices still speaking to your customers. Use this to provide another valuable connection to the world around them.

Creating real value

Imagine if you had an up-to-date, reliable way of understanding which emotions were dominating the minds of your stakeholders. You’d know if they needed a joke, some advice or a story about a local hero. 

While it’s impossible to always get it right, try getting a handle on your audience’s emotional state in order to provide real, genuine value to your stakeholders in a difficult time and maintain your connection with them while others have gone dark.

Avoiding trauma

When a crisis is underway, emotions run deep, and feelings, both past and present, can hit hard. By staying in touch with your stakeholders’ emotions, you can show them that you understand their pain and that matters to you. 

An example of this took place during the recent unrest connected to the killing of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter became a rallying cry, and in one of the few times in recent memory, brands and corporations joined the cause, nearly always on the side of the protesters.

While some, such as Ben & Jerry’s, performed admirably, others suffered backlash as either their corporate practices clashed with the BLM message or they expressed a desire for broader “equality” and even concern over property damage during the protests. 

While we can assume these brands thought their intentions were good, they clearly failed and paid a price for it. They simply hadn’t listened well to the tenor of the times, and they didn’t realize that many of their target consumers were highly sympathetic to the protests, with many actively participating in them. 

As such, there was an uproar against any institution that hadn’t done enough to promote equality for people of color. 

Brands that have waded into this highly fraught situation without knowing what their stakeholders were feeling have failed to read the room. They might also have inadvertently increased anger among the very people with whom they were trying to show solidarity.

Keeping employees happy

In what might be the ultimate virtuous cycle for the business world, research has consistently found that keeping employees happy leads to higher levels of productivity, which in turn can make the work more rewarding for employees, which leads them to be happier, and so forth.

Given this, it’s astonishing that businesses often deploy poor means of staying in touch with their employees’ mental and emotional health, if they deploy anything at all. In fact, 27 percent of communications executives in a recent IPR/Peppercomm survey said their companies had no procedures to measure or analyze employee engagement, or to listen to their employees.

Nearly all companies depend on managers to report “issues” up the chain, but rarely is this formalized, and it’s often at the individual manager’s discretion. Some companies employ surveys, but these are notorious for missing nuance (e.g., 4-point scales on anger can’t really distinguish between rage and merely being a bit peeved). 

From this perspective, developing the protocols and procedures to truly understand the emotions of your employees can pay enormous dividends for your company and its workforce. With uncertainty ruling the day, leadership will know if employees have been knocked for a loop and set about supporting them appropriately while simultaneously preparing the business for a possible drop in productivity. 

Exhibiting pride and purpose

Much has been made of research showing that millennials and Gen Z want to work somewhere that plays a positive role in society at large and expect their places of work to reflect their values.

Given this, how well do we understand that ultimate stakeholder: society at large? How well do we understand the passions, sentiments and emotional currents coursing through our society’s veins at any given moment, but particularly during a crisis? How can we truly leverage our business to find the best, most meaningful way to contribute in the midst of chaos?

Whether it’s sadness, anger, rage or joy that are rising or falling in the greater world, these are the starting points for meaningful contribution. Once you’re tuned in to that, as your business’s communicator, you can move confidently into the maelstrom, secure that what you’re bringing to the table will truly be welcomed and necessary. You can feel confident knowing that in dark times, you’re helping bring a bit of light.

Return to Current Issue Career Development | October 2020
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[chris madden]

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