To achieve your goals and influence effectively, it is vital to focus your energy on those who can have the greatest ability to help or hinder. Without this focus, people tend to work on those who are nearest, best known or most convenient rather than those whom they should be influencing.
The title “Stakeholder” has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Its traditional use refers to large groups of people, often with a somewhat nebulous, yet real existence – the media, the public and shareholders are often what’s being referred to. As such, stakeholders used to be the chief concern of high level boards and committees. However, the shift in popular usage is happening because of the realisation that the ideas used at a high level to manage these groups can apply just as well to more humble pursuits – the sort of projects that people throughout the organisation run.
The definition I want to use here is only marginally different from the one you would find in any dictionary…
Stakeholder: Any individual or group who has an interest in your success
A very important point to bear in mind with this definition is that “interest in your success” means that they will benefit when you are successful. It also means that they may lose if you are successful – i.e. they have a negative interest. If you are aiming for promotion to your boss’ job, your colleagues may have similar aspirations. They have a negative interest in your success because if you get the job, they won’t.
For example, you may be aiming to secure funding for your project which will deliver a new product for the Sales Director – who will be a positive stakeholder because they benefit from the delivery of the new product – well, assuming they want it! However, a colleague of yours may be pushing to launch a different product and there is only so much budget to share around all the possible projects and products. If you get the budget, they may struggle. In this case, they are most likely to be a negative stakeholder – and someone who needs to be managed very carefully!
Incidentally, a stakeholder may not realise they are a stakeholder of what you are seeking to achieve, so some of them may need to be educated – but more on that later.
Another distinction is “individual or group”. In this process, we usually focus on individuals, but this largely depends on the scale of your goal and the number of people who are involved in the stakeholder management. If you are using the process to get your whole team moving, I’ll talk more about using this process with groups at the end of the chapter – for now, let’s just focus on individuals.
In this step, you need to pull together a list of people – sorry, stakeholders – who could help you or hinder you. This means people who can have an impact on what you are doing – and this is different from the group of people who are connected or involved in what you are doing.
Naturally, you can easily argue that anyone who is connected could have an impact, which is true but not particularly helpful here. One of my favourite questions when I’m coaching with the Stakeholder Influence Process is who will benefit or win when you are successful? Quite often the answer to this is everyone. This is good news; however, to be effective at stakeholder management, you need to get a little more focused while not completely ignoring the masses!
Instead, what you are looking for are those who can have the biggest impact. Those who could stop you dead in your tracks if they wanted to or, on the other side, carry you safely over the finishing line. Most people end up identifying eight to twelve impactful stakeholders – although these numbers often climb with subsequent reviews. If you struggle to come up with eight names, you may need to find a different Influencing Goal to focus on.
One of the biggest risks you have to protect yourself against is failing to manage the right stakeholders. I’ve found that, generally, people will manage the stakeholders who are most obvious, easiest to access and the ones they have the best relationship with. This is rarely enough.