Stakeholder engagement takes bravery. Why? Not only are you asking your stakeholders (community, colleagues, and clients/customers) for their feedback and insight about your organization, but you’re also inviting many different people with many different perspectives to the party. And although it’s wonderful to have the fans of your organization chime in, our team rolls out the welcome mat for the contrarians in the crowd, those who oppose or reject popular opinion.
Several years ago, our team led a community engagement project for a non-profit organization that wanted to consider changing its purpose, to expand what it did to support services within its four walls to something bigger in the community. This idea, put into action, would mean this non-profit could potentially be competing against other non-profit organizations, but most ideal, working in collaboration with others to carry the heavy load together.
The fans came out in droves, offering excellent insight, potential challenges to consider, and excitement for the potential change because of what it would mean for the community.
There were a few contrarians too, and as a result, a few awkward moments in discussion groups.
This is the benefit of having contrarians weigh in because they do two things to help you:
1. They see things differently: many times, a contrarian will see the gaps and challenges more clearly, and when provided the opportunity, will challenge your thinking. As a neutral engagement specialist, our feelings aren’t hurt at all, and we take this insight into consideration for the entire project because…
2. They represent others who see things like they do: not everyone is going to be a fan of your organization or of a proposed change of direction or purpose, and these people represent others just like them. They just happen to be brave enough to speak out, so take their feedback not as a threat, but a gift to help you make better decisions.
We are working with an organization currently to assist them in a membership engagement survey. They are also bravely going beyond their current membership to tap into the insight of those who are no longer members of their organization to understand their perspectives.
It’s kind of like Buckley's Cough Syrup’s catch phase: it tastes awful. And it works. Hearing from contrarians can be a little bit of a gut punch, but when you move beyond the initial sting, this gift of insight will help you more strategically move in new directions as an organization.
So, be brave, engage and roll out that welcome mat for the contrarians in your life.