When a Surprise Isn’t a Good Surprise

January 13, 2018

Have you ever been to a surprise party where you know the person that just walked through the door is most definitely surprised, but not in a good way? Maybe they hate surprises. Maybe they had a rough week and were hoping to just lay low. Maybe they don’t like parties or being the centre of attention. I learned this lesson of engaging and asking questions BEFORE I threw a surprise party for my Dad who was turning 70. I wanted to do a big party, after all, it’s my Dad and he was turning 70! No go! Dad said he preferred a nice casual get together with family because he wasn’t really interested in a big event. Not what I would have wanted, but after all, it really was about him.

The same is true in business when we don’t engage and ask questions of our stakeholders: our customers, staff, and Board members. We make decisions based on assumptions, and although we CAN get it right, many times we don’t.

Here’s a tale of two organizations: the Non-Engager and the Engager


There is an organization that has been around for a few years. They’ve got credibility, buy in from customers, and do some real good in their community. One day, they decide to change things up… drastically! Their intentions for the change are quite admirable and they had it all planned out, but they miss one critical step. Engagement. They didn’t reach out and bring their stakeholders (staff, customers, key influencers) along for the journey asking strategic questions and figuring out what the potential roadblocks and opportunities were. Everything was ready to go and launch day approached. When the organization finally does engage, it’s at the launch when all decisions have been made and their valued stakeholders are finding out with everybody else. The results? Apathy from customers who find out the organization they’ve supported has changed, a lot. Confusion from staff who are expected to help live out the story but they can clearly see the gaps which could have been avoided through conversation and collaboration. Powerlessness from the team who thought they were doing right and find out they have missed a step and have now lost a lot of what they once had > credibility, buy in, and the capacity to do good with their community. To change this, a re-engagement strategy needs to be laid out and followed, hoping to get people back on side again.


There is another organization. Same thing. They have credibility, buy in from customers, and do some real good in their community. They too want to make some drastic changes, but they’re guided to engage first with their stakeholders. They find out early on what some of the potential roadblocks are as well as some opportunities they hadn’t thought of. When it comes to launch day, they’re not crossing their fingers hoping their stakeholders are on board, they already know it. The results? Customers who are more deeply engaged. Staff who are bought in because they see their ideas and thoughts come to life in the overall plan. A feeling of pride and power for the team who know that because they engaged with their stakeholders, they’ve increased their credibility, deepened their buy in, and more than ever, have the confidence and increased capacity to do good in their community.

Although this all sounds ideal, engagement is truly for the brave. You must be prepared to open a can of worms when you’re seeking insight, ideas, and thoughts from your stakeholders. Honestly, sometimes you hear things that aren’t so great, but it’s through those conversations that you understand some of the roadblocks. It’s really only then when you can develop a strategy to deal with these areas in meaningful and strategic ways to see growth and a new energy for your company or organization. I recommend learning from the mistakes of the Non-Engager. Be brave and engage!