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Thoughts from Jo Field, Founder of JFG Communications

The transport industry contributes over £90bn annually to the UK economy. But with the fast-paced environment we live in today, and disruptive forces such as globalisation and technological innovation, it’s important for the industry to keep up. In fact, many reports warn the transport industry must undergo radical change to remain competitive.

 

Alongside this, Britain’s departure from the European Union is a critical issue for business. It opens up both opportunities and challenges for the transport sector.

And at this important time for the industry, some experts believe it is also facing a skills shortage. Government predicts the shortfall of transport infrastructure workers will be as high as 55,000 by 2020. As investment in infrastructure continues apace, there is uncertainty about how such a skilled workforce will be found to bridge the gap.

What does this mean for transport organisations?

To ensure transport organisations are equipped to deal with the changes that lay ahead, industry leaders need to ask themselves how they can better communicate with their customers, engage their stakeholders and use their positions of influence to inform policy.

Transport and logistics executives need to make improving the sector’s image a top priority. Not least to remain competitive and meet customer demand, but also to help attract a new and diverse workforce to the industry.

Why do we need stakeholder engagement?

I believe familiarity for a business can lead to favourability.

Stakeholder engagement is essential to building relationships with the communities and groups (stakeholders) that are interested in an organisation and its projects, products and services. When people feel they have been listened to and have had an opportunity to contribute, they are more likely to become advocates, and be willing to champion an organisation’s work.

But building advocacy is a long-term process; it doesn’t happen overnight. When it’s reached, however, advocacy from your customers or stakeholders about what your business does, can allow you to influence the policy agenda and ensure your company’s performance thrives.

Also, involving more people, of all ages, genders and backgrounds, will create increased interest in transport careers. It will help the sector meet the challenges of Brexit and disruptive technology, and enable delivery of the pipeline of transport infrastructure projects.

How can a boutique consultancy help?

A boutique consultancy can help deliver your stakeholder engagement objectives, prepare your business for the exciting challenges ahead and set you apart from your competitors.

The benefits of asking a boutique consultancy to deliver your transport public affairs and stakeholder engagement strategy include:

  • Deep industry knowledge
  • Sector expertise
  • Wide ranging industry connections and contacts

With extensive industry knowledge, a boutique agency is ideally placed to help you achieve your communications and stakeholder engagement goals. 

Stakeholder engagement: where do we start?

By taking some small steps, we can begin to make a positive difference towards communicating better with our customers, engaging with our stakeholders and building an advocacy platform for our businesses.

If you want to improve stakeholder engagement within your transport organisation, but aren’t sure where to start, you may wish to consider my six 'top tips' for excellent engagement:

  1. Identify your stakeholders: The first stage of stakeholder engagement is to carry out a thorough mapping exercise to identify and understand your stakeholders and their views on your company and its products and services.

  2. Have the conversation: This is a major part of stakeholder engagement. Don’t be scared to talk to your stakeholders. Doing so will help gain their respect. Different stakeholder groups will often have different perspectives and competing views. But the worst mistake you can make is to ignore them.  All interested groups have the right to be heard and must be.

  3. Engage early and often: It’s important to make contact with your stakeholders as early as possible. They need to be consulted regularly, and have a real opportunity to influence your organisation, projects and plans. Stakeholders should be given the confidence you are going to listen to, and take account of their views and requirements.

  4. Aim to build advocacy among your stakeholders: You should engage with a wide range of stakeholder groups and aim to build advocacy for your organisation by carrying out top-quality, meaningful engagement. This will help make the case for your work, drive projects forward and protect your organisation’s reputation. But, be aware, building advocacy is a long-term process. It doesn’t happen overnight. And fundamentally, it’s all about building relationships, listening and working in partnership with your stakeholders to deliver results that work for everyone.

  5. Be their champion: One of the key parts of effective stakeholder engagement is to be your stakeholders’ advocate within your own organisation. As you build relationships and trust, you will gain information and expertise from your stakeholders that will be useful to your company. Make sure the right people in your company hear the right information at the right time. Champion your stakeholders' needs and be their advocate internally. This will help to build trust and strengthen relationships over time.

  6. Consider the impact of social media: Social media can be an excellent tool for promoting your organisation. But it also means even the smallest of issues can be blown out of proportion. Make sure you are aware of your stakeholders, what they are saying on social media, and how it can play a part in communication and promotion of your projects and programmes.

By following these tips, we can all take advantage of better engagement with our stakeholders and the opportunity to build advocacy. This will undoubtedly help our transport organisations remain competitive and enable them to use positions of influence to inform policy. It will also help promote the sector as an attractive place to work.