Effective management of relationships with stakeholders is crucial to resolving issues facing organizations. By using their influence, stakeholders hold the key to the business and social environment in which your organization operates and therefore its subsequent financial and operating performance. Thus the effective management of stakeholder relations should be an essential focus of 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.
And don’t call it stakeholder management! We can’t actually manage stakeholders. That term is quite misleading. We can only manage the relationship with them.
Stakeholder relations management is a key skill
The aim of stakeholder relations management is to influence stakeholder attitudes, decisions, and actions for mutual benefit. Stakeholders need to gain from the relationship or they may not be sufficiently motivated to cooperate. A skillful approach is required to balance as much as possible the interests of all parties involved. Thorough planning will build you the balance you are seeking.
The aim is to achieve mutual benefits
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. This makes it more likely they will support you, and their input can also improve the quality of your project.
- Gaining support from powerful stakeholders for your work can help convince senior management to allocate more resources to you. This makes it more likely your projects will be successful.
- By communicating with stakeholders early and often, you can ensure 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 stakeholders’ reaction to your project is likely to be, and then you can build into your plan the actions that will win their support.
Steps in stakeholder relations management
The first steps in stakeholder relations management are to identify and prioritize stakeholders.
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 secondary sources therefore potential stakeholders as well?
- What is their potential 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! They can be internal or external. Research reveals the most important stakeholder group. You can help the thoughts of stakeholders by asking them questions through a process of facilitation. People are often quite open about their views, and so asking them is often the first step in building a successful relationship. Seeking their advice is another good way to strengthen your relationship and add value from their input.
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.
Stakeholders can be prioritized numerically in a matrix showing a weighting of their importance, for instance out of a score of 10, against each of the most important factors relevant to a particular issue, also weighted out of 10, or a set of factors most important to the organization overall. These are discussed in my article, “How to calculate the value of stakeholders.”
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.