Annual Planning can be a lengthy process, but it is critical that we don't short cuts or downplay the important of some of the key activities, and Stakeholder Discussions is no different.
Discussions with key stakeholders both internally and externally to the organisation can be invaluable when developing the Strategic Plan and Annual Plan.
In this post, we explain how our Stakeholder Discussions template can assist you in your annual planning process and what tips and tricks you can take with you when having your discussions.
For further information and guidance on the end to end annual planning process, please refer to our Annual Planning Guidance in the Guidance Hub.
Before we commence our stakeholder discussions, it is important that we have completed our pre-work. By completing steps 1 to 4 of the above mentioned Annual Planning Process, we will be able to have better and more informed discussions with our stakeholders.
Of particular importance is the Audit Universe. The Audit Universe will provide a historical log of all previously audited activities, as well as an indicative list of what can be audited next, based on our audit cycles, risk rating and general understanding of the business. All this information will help to ensure we have meaningful and valuable discussions with our stakeholders.
Preparing for the stakeholder discussions
Before we begin meeting with key stakeholders, its good to determine who those stakeholders are. For smaller organisations, this may be an easy activity and something which can be done by one person. For larger entities, it may take more of a coordinated approach as one person simply won't have the capacity to meet with every single stakeholder.
We have built a Stakeholder Discussions Checklist, aimed at ensuring we have an idea who which stakeholders we want to meet, when we will meet with them, who met them, and references to any meeting minutes. As always, it is critical that we document what we have done, and this is no different when undertaking the annual planning process.
Our checklist includes all the usual suspects, such as the Audit Committee Chair, CEO, CFO and other Heads of Departments. Depending on your business, it may be worthwhile meeting some people external to your organisation. These could include regulators, industry groups and even the external auditor. Each of these people will see your business from a different angle and could be invaluable in developing your risk based audit plan, which also provided value and benefit to the business. You can download an editable version of our template by clicking here.
Conducting the stakeholder discussions
Obtaining time with some of the key stakeholders can be challenging. These are often busy people that will have limited time available in their diary. Because of this, it is important that meetings are booked in early and that we (and the stakeholder) are both prepared for the meeting. It is best to work as though this is your one chance to get all the information you need, and therefore, we don't want to waste this precious time. To help, we have developed an example Meeting Agenda covering some of the topics which should be included with your stakeholder discussions. A copy of the editable template can be downloaded here.
As always, remember to document the work which has been performed.
There are a number of golden rules which I take with me to any meeting, and the stakeholder discussions are no different. These golden rules are:
1. Set an agenda and purpose of the meeting
Nobody has time to waste and further, we want to make sure we are getting as much information and answers as possible. To ensure this, we need to set an agenda and meeting purpose. Clearly state what the meeting is for, why we are doing this, and how it fits into the bigger picture.
2. Be prepared
Both you and the stakeholder should have read and prepared before the meeting. Obviously, in most situations, it is likely that the stakeholder hasn't had time to read the information. Send them across any background information which may help early on, but follow this up just prior to the meeting to remind them to have a look. This is not only great for bringing them up to speed and encouraging them to be an active participant, but it also ensures you are prepared. Know what you want to talk about, know your facts and be ready to challenge or answer questions when necessary
3. Choose your audience
Don't make the meeting room heavy with auditors, but also don't be over powered. Setting meetings can be tricky to capture the right balance. Too many auditors can result in limited discussion as the other person may feel threatened or intimidated. Too many of the stakeholders can almost over power the auditor. Furthermore, ensuring the right stakeholders are present. Large / bolder / stronger stakeholders may talk over more timid participants and inherently control the meeting. Its important that everyone gets an equal opportunity to speak, otherwise whats the point of even having them in the meeting. A good rule of thumb I follow for smaller meetings is that there should always be at least one more of them in the meeting.
4. Be engaging
Nobody hates a person with a boring personality. Bring a bit of life to the table and encourage discussion. Simple things such as refrain from talking in monotone, don't sit with the arms crossed, and don't look bored, are easy things to kick start the meeting off in the right direction. To take it that level further tho, make the meeting interactive. Using drawings, whiteboards or mind maps to help with discussion. Use open questions. Ask questions about niche areas of the business (even if you know the answer), simply to show you are invested int their business area. Meetings don't have to be boring - so don't let them be!
5. Follow up
Even once the meeting is done and there are no further opportunities to meet, you can still reach out to them. Fire off an email summarising the key take aways, share photos of the planning session, and detail what the next steps are. This also provides them with one last opportunity to provide anything which may be of interest to you.
Whilst not always successful, sometimes a brief survey in your follow up email can also encourage a good response. Point out what you took from the meeting, then ask them, what the meeting valuable, have we captured the main points and concerns to them, what can be done better next time, etc. These questions could provide useful answers, both for the current year annual plan, but also future year annual planning activities.
The Annual Planning process is a critical activity, and the stakeholder discussions is just as critical. Do your pre-work, have a plan, have good discussions, and follow up, to ensure you can build a well rounded and value adding risk based plan.
To gain a copy of the Annual Planning templates, simply CLICK HERE to download.