How to assess the influence of stakeholders
Over the last 10 years, the stakeholder landscape as we know it has changed. A fragmentation has happened, resulting in headaches for corporate communication practitioners when it comes to identifying the right stakeholders and the strategies to accommodate them. In this post, you will get two practical tools to work with stakeholder identification, communication, and engagement - both internally and externally.
Organizations need to increasingly realize the importance of communicating with their stakeholders in order to develop and protect their public reputation. Stakeholder Management has thus become vital, not only as effective communication with customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, political players, etc. but also as a way of thinking strategically about the overall business.
But which stakeholders should you prioritize? And what strategies should you use in communicating and engaging your stakeholder landscape?
I want to walk you through two practical Matrixes that a great for analyzing the influence of both internal and external stakeholders as well as the strategies to deal with them.
The Power-Interest Matrix
The Power-Interest Matrix is a great tool to map out and get an overview of the involved stakeholders, and it can be used on both internal and external stakeholders.
For this example, I want to use an internal focus, for instance when coordinating the development of a website in your organization. In this regard, internal stakeholders might be the client that you are creating the website for (both senior and junior executives), your manager, creative and developer resources, etc.
The model's objective is then to categorize the stakeholders based on the power that they possess and the likelihood of them showing interest in the project. When you have mapped out your stakeholders, it becomes way easier to formulate the appropriate communication strategies towards them: How intensely should you communicate to them, what should the key message be, etc.
These are stakeholders that have a high degree of power and an equally high interest in the project becoming a success. Therefore, this group is key to engage regularly and manage closely - they should be the ones that take up the highest level of effort. In the example of developing a website for a client, a key player is typically the main responsible from the client-side. Their head is on the line and they need to heavily involved in order for the partnership to be a success.
Keep these stakeholders satisfied by striking a careful balance between keeping them informed, but not overloading them with too much information. This group is particularly difficult to maintain relationships with, as they might exercise their power in reaction to a particular decision - despite lacking interest in the project overall. This means that you should let them know when something significant happens. This might be a Senior Director from the client-side - someone, who has no involvement in the website development but is measuring the one responsible for their performance.
You should keep these stakeholders adequately informed to keep them committed and consult with them regarding their area of interest. Make sure they don't have any major issues with the project, and involve them if necessary - they can often help with the detail of the project. This could be the people from your team with the core competencies to design the website. E.g. a copywriter or a developer - they don't need every detail from meetings, but just enough to keep them engaged with what they are great at.
Inform these stakeholders with general information. Don't overload them with excessive communication. This might be your own manager. Someone, who just needs to get an overview to help you stay on track.
When working with the matrix, remember not to undervalue any stakeholders, as interest can shift and they move from one quadrant to another.
In determining internal power and interest in the project, ask yourself the following questions:
Who has the power to make the project succeed or fail?
Who is affected positively or negatively by the project?
Who makes the decisions about money?
Who has specialist skills which are crucial to the project?
The Position-Importance Matrix
A very similar model is the Position-Importance Matrix. This model focuses on stakeholders' specific opinions on an issue. So where the Power-Interest Matrix is more general, as it can be used to assess the general power of a stakeholder, the Position-Importance Matrix is very specific on the stakeholder's particular position on an issue.
This means that it is a great tool for ongoing issue management. Corporate communication practitioners scan the organization's external environment for issues that can harm public or shareholder opinion, and they then use two values to assess how to move forward with the stakeholder:
The stakeholder's opinion on the issue
The stakeholder's relevance to the organization
These external stakeholders might include customers, politically-oriented institutions (such as governments or NGOs), subject matter experts within your field, the suppliers of your products, vendors, local communities, etc.
In a more PR-related perspective, let's go through the different stakeholders and the strategies you typically need to keep them satisfied.
These stakeholders are likely to oppose or be hostile towards the organization's course of action. However, they are not as important to manage, as they don't have recognized power to put pressure on the organization. If they do form a coalition, your strategy should be to prepare defensive statements and even try to change their opinions with educational programs.
On the other hand, antagonistic stakeholders do hold power or influence over the organization and should, therefore, be dealt with, as they are a dangerous opposer. Strategies for this group typically involve anticipating what they are going to object about and then developing a counter-argument. You can also bargain with them to win their support.
As the name suggests, these stakeholders are not as relevant from an issue management perspective, as they have no power and do in fact support the organization. A strategy here could be to educate them on what your company can do to get them more involved.
This group is important to bring into play, as they hold the power to make things happen and they also support your organization. With this group, your strategy should be to enforce their existing opinion, for instance by providing them with the right information and perhaps even asking them to influence other and more indifferent stakeholders.
I hope you found these two approaches to stakeholder management useful. If you want to discover more within the field of Corporate Communication, Public Relations, and Issue Management, read this piece on How to communicate during a crisis.
If you are more into the project management part of this post, check out the Two approaches to project management that you should know.
Finally, I can recommend Joep Cornelissen's book Corporate Communication, which inspired me to write this post.