Stakeholder Engagement is complex and demanding. First, there are so many stakeholders – often many more than we realize, with gaps in our list of stakeholders being common.
Second, although we often talk about stakeholders as one amorphous group there are many types of stakeholders and many levels of stakeholder power and support. We need to tailor our approach accordingly – treating each group differently.
Any important stakeholder missing from the list represents a lost opportunity in terms of engaging additional support. Moreover, it is a risk – a request for additional support for your project might end up crossing that neglected stakeholder’s desk at some stage.
How we engage with stakeholders is a key factor in project success. Should we struggle to do this successfully it becomes a key project risk
A good stakeholder map is essential. It’s a key to navigating project success. If the map is inaccurate or out of date the essential task of engaging stakeholders is a lot more difficult.
Potentially your list of stakeholders could include everyone that has a stake in the success of your initiative. They impact on, or are impacted upon by the initiative, that includes customers, suppliers, partners, regulators and so on. There may be internal stakeholders and external. Clearly, the list is going to be a long one!
Precisely because the list is so long, it is essential to map stakeholders in terms of their importance. That is their importance to success to the project.
Key factors to consider in assessing the importance of stakeholders is the level of power and influence, as well as resources. Also, the level of support.
We are going to look at the issue of stakeholders slightly differently – thinking in terms of fans and VIPs, spectators and detractors. We are going to do this in order to look at an old problem in new ways, perhaps some creative solutions and fresh thinking might emerge as a result.
If you are running a department, project or team, there are two things you need to know about your various stakeholders (a) their relative importance and (b) their support for you/your project. To proactively engage stakeholders requires knowing who are the VIPs and who are the Fans. That mean mapping stakeholders as follows:
Here is what the stakeholder mapping looks like, when completed.
To guide you in terms of mapping stakeholders on the grid, let’s explore the two axes below.
Not all stakeholders are equal. Some matter more than others to the success of your work.
Those stakeholders that are most powerful and important you will want to treat like VIPs, rolling out the red carpet and giving them your full attention.
VIP stakeholders have power, access, and influence. They can help us gain (and sustain) the resources/support we need to drive forward on our work. Without their ongoing support our efforts might founder.
By contrast other stakeholders have little power or influence. Whether they actively support you or not makes little real difference to your success. As a result, they are not a priority. You may be happy to leave them outside the velvet rope!
The VIP status of a stakeholder is measured by how much they matter to us and to the success of our work. This is the horizontal axis in the stakeholder matrix below.
Her formal job title was Chief Marketing Officer, but she had an informal role too – that of ‘chief agitation officer’. She could say things that others would not say, she saw it as her role to ‘stir things up’, to question the orthodoxy and to make people uncomfortable, as she often did. The reason was that she had the ear of the CEO, being regularly seeing entering and exiting his office and having sideline conversations before and after Senior Leadership Team meetings. The youngest member of the management team and a ‘blow-in’ to the organization she had power, access and influence well beyond what the organizational chart might suggest. Dismissing her sometimes grating comments was a mistake that many function heads had come to regret. While she had little formal power, she had significant influence.
VIP or not? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. For example, there is a special category of important stakeholders – those who have little input to big decisions, but can either (a) make things run smoothly or (b) make life difficult. Examples include stakeholders in ‘support functions’ whose help is required to ensure the smooth running of an initiative – more on this later.
Just because a stakeholder matters to us (they are a VIP) does not mean that we matter to them. Indeed, frustration regarding any stakeholder typically centres on the realization that they matter more to us, than we matter to them. The question is – are your VIP stakeholders a supporter or FAN of your work? This is addressed by the vertical axis on our matrix.
The degree of support or fandom of any stakeholder is measured in terms of engagement, satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.
Stakeholders can fall into three categories there are your fans those who actively support you. There are spectators those who are on the sidelines. And a final group those who are disaffected or may even be detractors. With the latter group similar either silence or rancor.
Whether a stakeholder is a FAN or not can be determined by the noises being made:
Engaging those who are silent (spectators and bystanders) can be a challenge, but those who are noisy and negative tend to command the most attention. These ‘detractors’, although engaged, are negatively disposed to your efforts. They may even be an active impediment to success, as well as a source of negative publicity / word of mouth.
Stakeholders, by definition, have a ‘stake in the game’, but this does not necessarily equate to a vested interest in your success. Some may be more inclined to drive a stake into your project or idea thereby crippling or killing it. Those are the ‘stake-holders’ to be really concerned about.
Detractors take from, rather than give to your endeavours. They may even sabotage your success. The question is why? Perhaps they suspect that for you to win, they must lose (i.e. lose power, influence, resources, etc.). Perhaps how you measure success is how they measure failure, with your goals, plans and KPIs being at odds with theirs. Finding out is key.
Where to focus attention? The answer is VIP stakeholders and in particular those who are disengaged and in 8 and 9. As VIPs, they matter to you, but you don’t really matter to them, at least not yet. They are not invested in your success, indeed some wouldn’t mind if you failed.
A first step is to understand why! Perhaps, your VIP Fans can help you – both in illuminating how to re-engage with the disengaged and disaffected, as well as in enticing them into your fan club.
‘We win and lose together’, for a long time that was the banner message on Lewis Hamilton’s website. If only this was true within organizations. The execution of ambitious strategies spurs internal competition as well as collaboration and creates winners as well as losers. A ‘them and us’ divide can be a major hurdle to be overcome in re engaging with stakeholder detractors. Ensuring a win-win for VIP stakeholders is key. The question is how can your success help VIP stakeholders to win?
There are three strategies to be applied to VIP stakeholders. These are shown in overview below and can be explored in detail here.
The term ‘Support Functions’ is often a misnomer. The people in these functions rarely see it as their job to support you. Their primary job is IT, Compliance, HR, Procurement and so on. For the IT Function, issues of technology, security, SLAs, vendor relations and so on, come first. You come second, although sometimes you may feel like you come last.
This does not mean that IT and Procurement are crucial to the success of your initiative, however their ‘unthinking’ application of bureaucratic processes and procedures can be a real nuisance and a hinderance to your speed and agility. That is unless they see you as a VIP, or as being backed by a VIP.
If your project has the proper backing and support, Procurement’s embargo on the addition of new vendors or IT’s embargo on subscriptions to new cloud-based applications will quickly disappear. The question is what VIP’s power and support do you need to make functionaries in IT, Procurement and so on jump? Are you in a position to make your support requests directly (or indirectly) to the heads of these departments or functions?