Today’s D+A principle is one of my personal favourites: Hope is not a Strategy. You may have thought this when you heard someone say, “Let’s just hope for the best”… without planning for the worst. In fact, not having any strategy is worse than a bad strategy – because even with a bad strategy, you have at least given future possibilities some thought.
What does it mean?
We say that if you can’t do engagement well, then don’t do it at all.
Why? It’s simple. Engagement done well is one of the best ways to manage risk. Done poorly, it creates risk. Imagine that: Investing time and money in the hopes of reducing risk, only to have it blow up in your face – and yes, that still happens when you simply hope for the best.
When we first heard ourselves telling clients that hope is not a strategy, they were usually saying things like, “let’s just hope nobody cares, nobody notices, or nobody shows up.” That’s rarely the case. If it’s legally required, or media pressure is pushing you to engage, your stakeholders will actually start engaging you, so preparation is the only substitute for hope.
We never simply hope that people will show up to public meetings, and we absolutely never hope they have read the background and come prepared to engage productively. We never hope that participants will play nicely together either, or, frankly, that the client knows everything they need to know about community and stakeholder engagement. We actually assume the reverse, and plan accordingly. That’s our approach to risk management.
What does it look like?
This engagement truth connects directly to the last. Because we never guess, we don’t have to rely on hope.
For example, when we extend a public meeting invitation, we never hope that stakeholders will be interested enough to show up. We always establish an RSVP mechanism and monitor it relative to the communications “pulses” we broadcast or direct. We never assume the “right” people will attend – instead, we go and get them.
During a recent engagement, after a stakeholder mapping exercise, we knew that many of the stakeholders who were indirectly and negatively impacted didn’t know it, and, therefore, wouldn’t engage. This group, often referred to as the “silent majority” was important to balance the conversation and to make sure the squeaky wheels didn’t carry the day.
Our strategy to reach these stakeholders was to, in our communications plan, identify direct channels to communicate with these people, and create messages that would attract their interest and assure representative participation. Representation was so important to this conversation that we even identified peoples’ stakeholder groups with colour-coded name tags during in-person events, and it was the first thing we asked during online components. All participants truly appreciated hearing many perspectives, and it definitely changed the decision outcome.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Delaney + Associates’ Company Creed. Check out the introduction piece here.