Key Elements in Stakeholder Management


By Eric Johnson

Stakeholder management is formally defined as the “the systematic identification, analysis, planning and implementation of actions designed to engage with stakeholders.” Thus a “stakeholder” is “[any] individual or group with an interest in the project, program, or portfolio because they are involved in the work or affected by the outcomes.”1
Now that we have the formal definition out of the way, let’s talk informal. A stakeholder is anyone who is associated with or impacted by the project, process, and/or outputs. A client once joked “I like to think of it as anyone who can complain about the results”. Thus the goal of successful stakeholder management is to provide all involved with the incentive to see the work to successful completion and/or successful outputs. An example of several sets of stakeholders would be: Front-line employees, union reps, middle managers, vice presidents, board members, external financial bodies, shareholders and most importantly, customers. The level of impact or association will vary depending on the expansiveness of the outputs. For example, changing the specs on one manufacturing robot vs. a full product overhaul. Within this guidance, we can consider these steps to managing stakeholders effectively:

1. Identify the stakeholders and their roles within the organization.

This is the first step in creating a robust map of all parties involved from the initiation to conclusion of the process or project. In our experience, developing an influence web is an ideal way to observe the network of influence. This is done by placing all parties on paper or in an application such as Visio and moving them around as influence is discussed, based on their relationships. Lines are drawn between various parties, with color or line thickness identifying the strength of relationships and arrowheads to determine the direction of the influence. Upon completion, a visible map is revealed that can be used to prioritize stakeholder management actions.

2. Have candid conversations with (1) the sponsor and (2) champions to understand “the lay of the land”: the influence both within and external to the organization and how that influence can positively or negatively affect outcomes.

The key word here is “candid”. It cannot be stressed how important the nature of these conversations relates to effective actions. If the sponsor, key stakeholder, etc. is afraid or hesitant to provide explicitly truthful information to the best of their ability, any further actions will be conducted under an additional cloud of uncertainty. To help mitigate this, it is important to create an atmosphere of trust, and then to verify information across stakeholders to obtain a reasonably accurate picture of the current state.

3. Have candid conversations with expected opposition to understand their incentives.

Next, conversations with the “expected opposition”, while difficult, will yield important insights into incentives. Why are they against the change? What are their incentives? What is their history? What would they consider to be an acceptable alternative? It is very possible that the change to come will reduce their own influence and they are circling the wagons to protect their current positioning. If possible, discuss these circumstances with your champions to attempt to secure influence from a senior executive to sway opinions or provide additional backing.

4. Develop a change management plan and execute:

1.) identify “failure points”, probability of occurrence and action plans to mitigate 2.) provide supporters with evidence to show successes 3.) continuously focus on limiting the impact of negative influencers or increasing the ability to convert those to positive. This is a continual steady state improvement effort. One will find that allegiances can change and should be diligent in monitoring influences and changing sentiments. Daily touchpoints should be conducted as efforts to change attitudes are a stair-wise climb, not a high jump. It is important to provide individuals time to digest the changes that they will experience in their own way.

The approach provided is one of many different ways in gaining the overall trust of stakeholders when implementing new changes within an organization. The goal is simple: increase positive reactions of stakeholders as you work to reduce or converting negative reactions, while understanding the probability to do so with each stakeholder group. Depending on the circumstances, there may be times when the organization is simply not ready for the change as a whole. However, by conducting due diligence on the front end, it will increase the chances of a positive outcome or avoidance of a negative one.

Stakeholder management is the ability to effectively bring as many individuals affected by the process/outputs change to a successful outcome as possible - and to reduce the influence of detractors as much as possible.

1. Association for Project Management.