Managing your stakeholders
Ultimately, stakeholder management is what running an organisation is all about. Effective stakeholder management helps you do a better job, both in the short and long term.
So what are stakeholders?
Well, anyone who has a stake in what you do, is a stakeholder. Anyone who you are dependent on to be successful and anyone who is dependent on (or impacted by) what you do. This means that your stakeholders could be:
- Direct reports
- Internal business partners
- External business partners
- Interest groups (linked to your industry, organisation etc. – this could for example be unions, lobbying groups and protest groups)
- The general public
Yes, the list is long – and this is not even a complete list. As we’ve mentioned before, transparency is becoming more and more important, and expected. This means you need to think about how to best manage at least your key stakeholders with enough transparency to be able to get the support you need to do a great job and deliver great results. Like with all communication, it’s about meeting the receiver where they are, rather than just communicating from your own perspective.
So how do you manage stakeholders?
Here are a few simple steps we recommend.
- Identify your stakeholders. You need to have a clear picture of who they are so that you can approach them in the most appropriate and useful way.
- Have a think/brainstorm and write down the names of all your (key) stakeholders. This can be individuals or groups of people.
- This can be done with your team, if you want to identify the stakeholders of the team.
- Don’t forget that you may have different stakeholders for different projects or initiatives as well.
- Consider how ”important” they are as stakeholders. Not all stakeholders need or want the same kind of attention and input. A couple of useful assessments is for example to think about
- the amount of power they have over what you do (Are they in charge of the money, are they the sponsor? Or have they very little or no power? Or somewhere in between?)
- the level of interest do they have in what you do (high interest, low interest or somewhere in between?)
- As you review the assessments you’ve made, you’ll quickly see that different stakeholders need to be managed differently.
- Those with high power need to be managed very carefully. If for example they are in charge of the money, they may need frequent updates on the ROI (return on investment) of your initiative. Or they need to be updated on what the effect of your work/project is having on the organisation as a whole, to see its importance and continue to sponsor it. And those will low power may need less frequent or less detailed updates.
- If they have high interest they could be given more information (especially if they also have high power), while if they have relatively little interest, you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much information.
- And if they have very little power over what you do, and also very little interest, you simply should not focus too much on them.
- Once you’ve identified your most important stakeholders based on power and interest, prioritise them further by assessing what the quality of the relationship is like now (e.g. on a scale of say 1-5, where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent) and what you want it to be. If you for example realise that your relationship with a major stakeholder is only a 2 and you need it to be at least a 4, then this prompts you to think about how you can best build the relationship with that stakeholder – and it helps you prioritise where to put your focus.
- Get to know your stakeholders. If you are going to be able to manage them effectively, you need to know and understand them. Here are some questions to help get you started:
- Which are X’s goals and objectives?
- What’s important to X? What motivates X most of all?
- How does my work connect with X?
- What does X expect from me?
- What information does X need from me? And how do I best give that to X, what channel should I use?
- Is X a supporter of me and what I do? If not, how can I change that to create greater support? (linked to point 4 above)
- How can I best ensure X’s continued support?
- Please keep in mind that all stakeholders are different. You can’t make assumptions on what your stakeholder may want. You need to tailor your approach to your key stakeholders and the steps above will help you get started on that.
- Create a Stakeholder Management Plan. Get specific on how you will communicate with and manage (at least) each of your key stakeholders. You will find a template for this plan below.
- Assess the impact on other stakeholders. Consider the impact of actions towards one stakeholder on another. Some actions may be positively perceived by one stakeholder, but negatively by another. If so, how will you overcome that?
- Deliver on the plan – consistently. Stick to your commitments on how you will work with your stakeholders. Be accountable.
- Follow-up and evaluate. How is it going? Are your stakeholders getting what they need from you? Are you getting what you need from them? What adjustments do you need to make?
- Adjust and continue. Update your Stakeholder Management Plan and continue managing your stakeholders carefully and effectively.
Some Ideas for Managing Stakeholders Remotely
Building the relationship
- If you don’t have a relationship with them yet, consider phoning or emailing them regarding question/shared interest to initiate contact and working relationship
- Think about how to build rapport when not face to face (eg. Listen, smile, match their voice tempo and volume on the phone)
- Make sure they feel they are as important as those geographically closer to you, by for example setting up frequent calls and/or updates
- Understand and adjust to cultural differences
- Tailor improvements/initiative to their needs
- Don’t take things for granted or be too quick to assume how things are (double check instead – “a stitch in time saves nine”)
- Involve people in (conference) calls, saying their name, asking specific, relevant questions
- If possible, arrange for the occasional video call, to create face-to-face contact
Traveling and meeting face to face
- Ask if/when they will be in your location and if you can arrange a meeting
- When you’re travelling, reach out ahead of time to book a meeting or stop by spontaneously if no specific agenda
- If a colleague is travelling, send greetings with them to your key stakeholders
- If it’s crucial for the progression on an initiative to travel (to meet/involve stakeholder), put together a cost benefit analysis to prove this point