While taking in the insights and questions shared at Symposium’s Apprentice and School Leaver Conference in December, several themes began to emerge. One in particular related to the power and influence of stakeholders. Whether persuading a traditional law firm to adopt a legal apprenticeship scheme or convincing parents that university is not the only path to success, people power is more often than not a make or break ingredient.
Understanding, managing and engaging with stakeholders in a strategic, thoughtful way increases our chances of achieving our desired outcomes; personal and /or organisational. Their opinions can help in the early stages; fostering their support along the way. This support can bring access to additional resources; improving quality and results.
Stakeholders come in many guises and vary according to situation and context so a good place to start is with a top-level definition. Having researched online and through my books on strategy, this one comes courtesy of Edward Freeman with one small tweak from me…
The interesting thing about this description is that it helps us recognise there are potentially many people who have an impact on, or will be impacted by, organisational and individual choices and objectives; people who we may not have originally thought of as stakeholders. It encourages us to look beyond the obvious and to think more holistically.
The definition is a good starting point but if we want to take a proactive approach to managing our stakeholder mix where do we begin?
Like any mixture, the quality of ingredients, the proportions used and the method employed all affect the ultimate result. So let’s take a look at how to create our own high-quality Stakeholder SOUP!
Select: Stage 1 focuses on identifying all potential stakeholders. The aim is not to analyse but create a long, broad-ranging list. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, reviewing past projects, exploring organisational charts are a few examples of how to select an extensive stakeholder list.
Organise: Stage 2 involves organising stakeholders. Not all of them are created equally; their importance and management is a function of their power/influence and their interest. The part they play varies which in turn informs how we interact with them and manage them. There are several models for classifying stakeholders. The example in Figure 1 combines key elements into one matrix.
Mapping and classifying the status of individuals and groups helps us decide what, when, where, how and in whom we are going to invest our valuable time and resources.
Understand: With key stakeholders identified and classified, Stage 3 entails developing an even greater understanding. For example: What motivates them? How to communicate with them? Who influences them? What do they care about? Talking directly to key stakeholders and learning more about them increases understanding, starts the process of building rapport and raises awareness of initiatives.
Plan: Stage 4 centres around the creation of an engagement plan. The analyses carried out so far provide classifications, information and understanding of stakeholders and their status. It highlights their role and importance which helps us recognise the type of relationships we must develop, if any. It helps us decide how we interact with them including the methods and content we choose to communicate.
The model in Figure 2 shows stakeholder relations as a continuum. The different levels of relationship depicted allow us to link stakeholder influence/interest to relationships and engagement. For example, a low influence / low-interest stakeholder may only require push communications via emails or newsletters. On the flipside, a high influence / high-interest stakeholder may take on the role of collaborator and be an active part of the team.
Time spent on understanding and managing stakeholders is time well spent. It can reduce misunderstandings; foster ongoing support and improve chances of success.
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