Four Ways Researchers Can Form Strong Stakeholder Relationships
The researcher-stakeholder relationship is frequently and widely discussed, yet in a practical sense it’s not always clearly laid out as to how insight professionals can achieve a stronger relationship with those who request, receive and benefit from their insights. With some valuable input from Ki Arnould Aguero, Senior UX Researcher at a Fortune 50 company, on how she’s tackled this very task, here are four practical approaches to fostering strong stakeholder relationships.
There’s no doubt that the researcher and stakeholder have a shared goal – at its most basic, the ultimate goal of all companies is to become more successful at what they do, and therefore the overarching purpose of every employee is to help the company achieve this goal.
In reality, however, stakeholders requesting the research may sometimes fail to see the necessity of sharing information with insight professionals, even if it would result in all parties understanding the shared goal in the relationship. This could stem from a multitude of things, including: time constraints, a silo culture within the organisation, or simply a lack of understanding of why it would be important to the research process. But the outcome is that the researcher finds themselves on a one-way street; they are asked to find the ‘what’ but not informed about ‘why’.
It is important for researchers to be bold and ask questions of their commissioning stakeholders, championing information sharing and avoid a further enabling of this imbalance. Ki agrees, stating:
“For anything related to a research request, I insist on a 30-minute call to talk over the details. Email just doesn’t cut it. Anytime I scope a research request, even a single open-ended poll question, my stakeholders leave out a lot of detail that they don’t realize is valuable to me.”
By insisting on understanding why the research is requested, the researcher can provide a better quality of insight through effective design, and improve their relationship by exceeding expectations, but also importantly opening up a space for dialogue with the stakeholder where their value can be communicated and used to its fullest potential.
2. Promoting Research Value To Engage Stakeholders
“It’s all about sharing the knowledge [and] explaining things in terms of how we can help THEM do their work.”
All good relationships involve mutual benefit, whether you are a researcher and a stakeholder in big brand company, or a clownfish and an anemone living in a coral reef. Finding ways to communicate to the stakeholder how we researchers can assist them in achieving their goals is crucial to fostering a good relationship. There will be stakeholders struggling with questions we could answer, and those who would benefit exponentially from what the insight team is already working on, but unless these stakeholders are engaged there is a risk of them missing out.
"Explaining available methods, talking through who’s responsible for each step in the process, and delivering what [was] promised in a timely fashion, communicates the value the researcher can bring to the stakeholder."
It’s also a case of the researcher developing a greater understanding of the stakeholder: the things that are important to them currently, but also their future priorities so that the researcher can support these things. Ki does this by setting up regular touchpoints with related teams and people to check in on what’s being done, what’s recently been wrapped up or reported on, and what her stakeholders want to prioritise next.
3. Breaking Down Developmental Silos
In the case of developmental silos, individuals and departments within the company can become focused on their own corner of a process, and either intentionally or through habit, fail to share information effectively outside of their team. Whilst much discussion of breaking down silos will assert that they are an executive problem, it could be argued that researchers are perfectly placed to facilitate cultural change because they engage with stakeholders both vertically and horizontally across the business.
“We all know silos are bad. People in silos speak in exclusive language and acronyms, duplicate work that’s being done by other teams, and come up with solutions that clash or confound. Creating relationships, even informal ones, can prevent silos and streamline the solutions we are all attempting to provide to customers.”
Breaking down silos is both the outcome of improved internal relationships and the process that achieves them, and something insight professionals should be constantly mindful to advocate.
To build strong stakeholder relationships, researchers need to employ innovative approaches to get their voice heard within their company. They need to reach out to their colleagues using multiple channels, making their messages digestible and relevant, and therefore offering the stakeholders the ability to take home the insights in whatever format their preferences and needs dictate.
“Break down your core message into 2-3 bullets. Build a talk track. Blast that talk track at team meetings, 1:1s, lunch and learns, and anywhere else you (or your boss) think it’s appropriate. Put it in writing and make it available online. Send out weekly/biweekly/monthly updates, if applicable. Frame the message(s) in terms of what value it will bring to the audience."
These four practical approaches are by no means exhaustive, but provide some tangible actions that researchers can take forward to improve their relationships with stakeholders at all levels within their business. A key theme of these approaches is that they require the researcher to give something of themselves to the process and perhaps, therefore, the insight professionals who are best at forming strong stakeholder relationships are those willing and able to apply a genuinely personal touch.
“Actual conversation, as opposed to email, helps me understand them better and provide value to their work, which then strengthens our relationship going forward.”
As with all relationships, trust, mutual benefit, and an openness to understand the other party are paramount.
Josie’s diverse background in research, psychology, and hospitality enables her to provide clients with a great personal service and practical support with their unique research projects. Her real-world application of psychology allows her to manage projects efficiently and draw out valuable comments and insight from research participants.