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The Importance of Authentic Stakeholder Engagement: Evolving Through the Pandemic

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Phil Marsden, (MD of Vextrix) has over nineteen years’ experience working in the construction industry and has a record of establishing and nurturing key client, stakeholder and professional/construction team relationships particularly in the highly regulated, process driven sectors of transport, rail and infrastructure. He has a wealth of specific, technical, statutory and regulatory knowledge and experience of programme governance and control, working with various contract formats including JCT and NEC.

Vextrix leads the way in its approach to consultancy. Leaving no loose ends, it boasts a business model centered around its personal, professional, and tailored service that is impeccably delivered to all clients. Phil and his team implement the companies “5D” approach from their internal Vextrix Operating System (VOS) which underpins their approach to ensuring that quality stakeholder engagement is maintained across all projects.

Vextrix leads the way in its approach to consultancy. Leaving no loose ends, it boasts a business model centered around its personal, professional, and tailored service that is impeccably delivered to all clients. Phil and his team implement the companies “5D” approach from their internal Vextrix Operating System (VOS) which underpins their approach to ensuring that quality stakeholder engagement is maintained across all projects.

In this piece Phil reflects on the past year, the impact of the global pandemic and details how the challenges posed have allowed himself and his team to adapt and evolve their current very successful working practices. Now, as we move into a phased normality, he highlights how the experience has further reinforced his knowledge of the importance of truly authentic stakeholder engagement and its critical importance in delivering their industry leading standards.

Discover

Our collaborative approach to stakeholder management is underpinned by core principles. One of these principles is the importance of the initial stages of research and planning. Not only are we great at delivering to plan, we are great at planning in advance. We are able to create frameworks for delivery and engagement early in programmes and projects, allowing our clients and subsequent teams to have clarity and understanding of how we can achieve projects objectives from the outset. So, as the world started to change and restrictions came into play that were to affect the way we do business, we had already been planning to manage and engage during times of disruption. We were prepared, set up for homeworking and equipped with a variety of tools (Teams, Zoom, Miro, Monday, whiteboard etc), making us able to adapt, quick to evolve and unafraid to combat changes in a way that would best serve our clients and our Stakeholders.

The physical way meetings took place to discuss our projects was the initial change that faced us, but we knew our communication skill set was more than adept at creating a new way of ensuring all key voices on a project were heard. The personal, tailored and regular approach we have been practicing at Vextrix since our establishment in 2009, focuses on understanding our clients’ needs, structures and processes, meaning that myself and my team had and continues to have, a great understanding of who the person is when it comes to our clients, their expectations, and the best ways to engage with them.

Define

We always look to establish a set of shared values with our clients which support project team actions and integration so that a spirit of openness is encouraged, and the team can work collaboratively. Profiling our clients and their stakeholders in relation to the changing demands of the pandemic allowed us to think about them even further. Our approach always allows input from several different parties who all have an interest and often differing opinions on aspects of the project. The views of this wide and varied group can better influence a projects design and diversity within the group provides a wider range of options to be considered in order to create solutions.

The pandemic allowed us to think about the best ways to communicate with all groups and to find the best ways to have the most productive and inclusive meetings possible. Factoring this into how we communicated meant we looked at individuals in more detail, working with them to use the restrictions to establish the correct engagement process (video, written communication, survey etc,) encouraging input and feedback from individual stakeholders and allowing for clear data collection, leading to timely decision making.

 

As we began to think like this, we realised some positive aspects of the pandemic starting to show through, for our clients, stakeholders and for the future of our business. All our meetings do not necessarily have to be face to face and all meetings do not necessarily have to be within set working hours. The most important component is, that we work in an environment where all our stakeholders’ voices are heard and all their needs met.

Compliance with all stakeholder requirements is critical to the success and progression of all projects. We manage this successfully by ensuring we have formed relationships with people in all key areas of their organisation as early as possible. This greater understanding of individual mindsets and priorities allowed us to tailor our service to promote integrated working, enhanced visibility and seek time efficiencies. We do this through consistency of processes, setting expectations in a scalable and consistent manner and simplifying processes and reporting structures so that they are understood and work at every level of the business.

Develop

We establish a clear picture of stakeholder groups and get a detailed understanding of concerns and their perspective of what constitutes a successful project, this allows us to assess the mood of the stakeholders and understand what is driving their feedback. Are they supportive of change? Objective? politically or financially motivated? Are examples of some of the key questions we make a priority. During the restrictions, streamlining our processes and reporting procedures and aligning this to how we operate has allowed us, not only to ensure all the information is correctly captured and reviewed, but it also provided us with an open knowledge base, allowing us to gather and analyse data to inform design solutions and project outcomes. The feedback gathered provides us with a wealth of information that will allow us to build an even stronger picture of our clients and their customers.

This information is now key when we are preparing for new projects, looking at ways in which our clients use information and allowing us to tailor our future services and outputs to further meet the expectations of our clients. The quality of data and the time and effort we required from our stakeholders (we all got a bit zoom’d/teams’d out!) was always at the forefront of our minds. So we were very conscious in making sure when we were developing solutions/methods of data collection for our clients it was efficient and user friendly.

Deliver

Ensuring we delivered our engagement in line with best practice guidelines took thought and testing. We have to keep in mind that our clients and people are operating within different sectors with their own set of specific requirements.  We tested our learnings and shared our knowledge with our teams to guide our practices and deliver our projects with our clients individual requirements in mind.  Our testing showed us that there were different times of the day to best suit the collation of feedback, so we have learnt to be flexible in our approach and be open to timescales that are best for the people we need to engage with us.

We don’t want to deliver projects and services that are on par with others in the eyes of our clients. We are always working to exceed client and stakeholder expectations and look to add value for them when they engage with us. The engagement process really needs to be two way street and the people consulted also need to feel their input is bringing value to the process.

During the pandemic, technology allowed us to create a space in which we could promote open and honest communication, at all times. Challenges to a project can occur when and where they are least expected, and it is how the team responds to these challenges that will ultimately influence a project’s success. All stakeholders to the project have aspirations/expectations that have to be carefully managed and at times there will be differences of opinion. We provide leadership and guidance to evaluate, on an impartial basis, the merits of opinions and solutions and ultimately help drive the decision making process to the correct conclusion.

Debrief

Our long-established approach to the way we are and the way we do business with individuals has allowed us to overcome the changes and challenges the COVID pandemic has posed, and quickly put our clients and their stakeholders’ minds at rest. The key to our years of success is a focus on continuous engagement to ensure that actions and issues are identified and shared early, ensuring that solutions and results have been evaluated before implementation. During the pandemic it has been our commitment to this process, along with our knowledgeable and honest approach that has given our clients the confidence to trust us when we face unexpected challenges. To trust that we have their needs at the heart of every project and to trust that, although we have all had to adapt to changes during this year, the changes we have implemented have been planned and developed carefully. This allowed us to increase and in some instances, improve communication within the teams we work and engage with, to deliver to standards that hold us high above our competition.

Looking to the future, I think there will be a return to a ‘normality’ of sorts in areas of our working practice and we can’t wait to get that real human interaction again. But there will also be aspects of the tools we have developed during the pandemic that will stay with our business and allow us to build an even stronger foundation for success, for our clients, for our stakeholders and for Vextrix.

 

‘ We were immediately aware of the focus the team at Vextrix had on the importance of ensuring and maintaining consultation with ourselves and our stakeholders when the pandemic hit. It is a fundamental aspect of what Vextrix deliver and integral to the success of our projects. From the outset Phil and the team made us feel at ease with the processes they had in place to make this a priority. Authentic stakeholder engagement can be hard to find, but the team went over and above to ensure our stakeholders needs were met, leading us to achieve an extremely successful project.’

Neil Codrington - Northern