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Stakeholder relations management is a key skill

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Effective management of relationships with stakeholders is crucial to resolving issues facing organizations. By using their influence, stakeholders hold the key to the environment in which your organization operates and the subsequent financial and operating performance of the organization. Thus the effective management of stakeholder relations is growing as a key focus of PR and organizational activity.

A stakeholder is any person, group or organization who can place a claim on an organization’s attention, resources or output, or is affected by that output. They have a stake in the organization, something at risk, and therefore something to gain or lose as a result of corporate activity.

The aim of stakeholder relations management is to influence stakeholder attitudes, decisions, and actions for mutual benefit. The stakeholders need to gain from the relationship or they may not be sufficiently motivated to cooperate.


The first main steps in stakeholder relations management are to identify and prioritize stakeholders. You then use stakeholder planning to build the support that helps you succeed.
The benefits of using a stakeholder-based approach are:

  • You can use the viewpoints of the main stakeholders to help shape your projects at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support you, their input can also improve the quality of your project.
  • Gaining support from powerful stakeholders can help you to win more resources. This makes it more likely that your projects will be successful.
  • By communicating with stakeholders early and often, you can ensure that they know what you are doing and fully understand the benefits of your project. This means they can support you actively when necessary.
  • You can anticipate what people's reaction to your project may be, and build into your plan the actions that will win people's support.

First steps

1. Identify your stakeholders

List the people, groups or organizations who are affected by your project, who have influence or power over it, or have an interest in its successful or unsuccessful conclusion.

Stakeholders can be assessed systematically according to criteria such as influence, impact and alignment. For example, these questions can help assess their relevance:

  • To what extent will your strategy affect each group, positively or negatively?

  • How far does the strategy align with their existing beliefs about your organization’s values and purpose?

  • How far do they share your organization’s values and purpose in this area?

  • How robust is the existing relationship with them?

  • What information do they need from you?

  • How do they want to receive it?

  • Who influences their opinions about this issue, and who influences their opinions of you? Are some of these people therefore potential stakeholder as well? Who else might be influenced by their opinions and should they also be considered stakeholders?

  • What potential do they have to influence the business directly or indirectly (via other stakeholders), positively or negatively?

  • If they are not likely to be positive, what will get their support?

  • If you can’t get their support, how will you manage their opposition?

  • How likely will actions towards one stakeholder group influence the attitudes of other stakeholder groups?

  • What are the consequences of this?

A very good way of finding the answers to these questions is to talk to your stakeholders directly – tactfully of course! People are often quite open about their views, and so asking them is often the first step in building a successful relationship with them.

2. Prioritize your stakeholders

You may now have a long list of people and organizations that are affected by your work. Some of these may have the power either to block or advance your activities. Some may be interested in what you are doing, others may not care. Having identified your main stakeholders, you need to decide which of them are the most important. With limited resources, you should only deal actively with the most important ones.


Matrix to assess strategic value of stakeholders

  1. Consider the issue, develop a list of criteria that are important to resolve the issue.

  2. Assign a weight to each criterion according to its importance to resolving the issue.

  3. Draw up a matrix showing the criteria and evaluating the relative importance of each stakeholder by their score on those key criteria.

The following diagram shows how the importance of stakeholders can be assessed according to the criteria you decide upon.

Example:

Criteria          
1. Access to key decision makers       X  
2. Access to the media     X    
3. Access to key information   X      
4. Able to influence stakeholders       X  
5. Sufficiently motivated to be active     X    
  1 2 3 4 5
  Slight, if any Moderate Definite
      Weight    

 

In the example above, the stakeholder would have a score of 16. The score for that stakeholder could be compared against the score of other stakeholder to decide who are the higher priority for active relationship management.

Another article will look at developing a matrix showing the important factors relating to each main stakeholder. This forms the basis of a comprehensive stakeholder relations management plan.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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