Building something? The kind of thing that’ll have the neighbours up in arms? Or cheering from the rooftops? Either way, you need to listen to the Joneses, writes Alan Gorham, account director at The BIG Partnership.
DECADES of bad press about ‘cowboy builders’ has coloured the opinions of many when it comes to trusting the people who build our homes, offices, and leisure venues.
This is bad for business, and entirely unnecessary.
Besides the reputational damage unhappy residents, neighbours or community members can cause, not engaging those with a vested interest – we call them ‘stakeholders’ – can make completing the actual building work all the more difficult.
On the other hand, an engaged stakeholder is far more likely to respond constructively to a plan than one who feels he or she has not had enough opportunity to talk about it and is left with no choice but to cause a stir.
Getting stakeholder communications right on a construction project is as important to the process as getting the foundations straight and the render mix just the right shade.
If you check off the three areas below, you’ll be well on your way to smoother communications and a better business profile:
PUBLICISE WELL AND START EARLY
Ensuring that the message about a plan reaches stakeholders in an open and transparent manner is the first step of the public relations effort which supports any development.
The moment you announce the acquisition of a site or confirm the intended use for a plot of land, expect a response from the public. Have your stakeholder communications planned in advance and open the consultation process early, before the formal proposal is unveiled.
Encouraging stakeholders to engage directly before the formal proposal is launched is vital.
The time for meaningful input is before the architectural drawings are complete, and any suggestion the plan is a fait accompli will completely devalue the consultation before it begins.
Be ready to indicate how long it’ll be before the diggers and lorry loads of steel, timber frame, bricks and mortar will be onsite, what disruptions there will be to the local area, and what the consultation process involves.
OPEN UP A DIALOGUE
Consultation is enshrined in the planning process and regulations – what is key is ensuring that the people who take an interest know the developer will be available for meaningful dialogue at the earliest stage, rather than simply ticking a box by holding a consultation event.
While the onus is in part on the stakeholder to turn up, giving them a reason to is incumbent upon the developer – opening the doors is one thing, making sure that the people who can give substantive answers to serious questions are available for consultees is crucial.
RESPOND AND FOLLOW-UP
Where one consultation event is the minimum standard, there is little impediment to a developer hosting two – giving them the opportunity to show that comments made have been given real consideration.
By taking on board comments during the consultation, and coming back to the engaged stakeholder with an updated sketch highlighting the areas where their comments have influenced the proposed final design, or a valid reason highlighting why it didn’t make the revised draft, the developer is far more likely to appease than displease the audience.
Instead of thinking of stakeholders as a bolt-on or regulatory obligation to your building project, consider them part of the building fabric: how you approach them will make a difference to the sustainability and lifecycle of your project.
The three steps above will help you get it right.