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"Stakeholders are all those groups who help or hinder your chances of success. They may need careful management."
You’ll know about customers and what they want, but how much do you know about other stakeholders?
Stakeholders are everyone else you have to consider regularly when you’re making plans - from groups like the HR department down to individuals like the Health and Safety rep.
Some may be helpful, and some may be difficult customers. Some will be powerful allies while others can be a small-time nuisance. All of them can really help or hinder you getting things done. It's worth keeping a mental list of your most influential stakeholders, especially if you’re planning any serious changes.
Assess their power and interests
If you are thinking through a potentially controversial move with your team, it's worth going one step further and listing out:
- "Who do we need to keep on-side? Who has power or influence over what will happen."
- "What are their interests?"
- "Are their interests aligned with ours?"
The power-interests matrix, mapping stakeholders' priorites and level of influence over your fate, will also help your team review who your stakeholders are, what they think about the change and what you can do about it.
It is important to be as open-minded as you can be when you describe your stakeholders’ interests - they may be very different from your own! It requires some serious “sitting in their shoes”. Much easier to say someone “just wants an easy life” than to understand the very good reasons they may have for opposing your change.
Manage the relationship
Then you will want to connect with your stakeholders to promote your team’s interests. Perhaps rallying influential supporters. Perhaps trying to win over the doubters. Or perhaps just by explaining the facts about what you are trying to do and why.
You'll find all the help you need in our exercise "How to influence stakeholders".
Early consultation with your stakeholders means you can tweak your proposals so that their concerns are taken into account. There is clear evidence from research that the best results come from starting these consultations with an open mind and an assumption that together you can come up with something that will work for both of you.
If you start with an I-win-you-lose mentality you’re sunk. You’ll end up at best with a second-class compromise because you’ll edit out creative possibilities where you both can benefit. At worst, before you know where you are the whole thing will turn into a negotiation. Which is what you were trying to avoid by involving them early.
The aim of this exercise is help you target and influence your key stakeholders.