If you’ve been lucky, you might have had a manager that stands out as an influential person in your career. I had been lucky to have a few like these. The manager that I probably learnt the most from, taught me a valuable lesson about stakeholder management. Before every meeting that we attended together, she would have a quick chat to strategise about who would be at the meeting, what their objectives would be and how we can influence them. This was ground-breaking to me! I had never realised that you could be that deliberate about influencing and promoting your agenda. It’s a lesson I have used many times.
Herewith a 6-step process for managing stakeholders that I have found useful.
- First, know who they are. If you’re rolling your eyes thinking it’s obvious, yes, it is obvious. But spending a couple of minutes thinking about who your stakeholders are might bring some surprises that you might not have thought of. On a big piece of paper write down all the stakeholders that influence your role. Think wide, think big. Don’t stop when you’ve done the obvious ones. There might be important stakeholders in the shadows that, if you don’t consider them, might impact negatively on your success. Always ask: “Whose voice is not being heard?”
- Understand how they are connected. Draw the connections among the stakeholders in the shape of arrows. Who do they influence? Who are they in turn influenced by? Play with the thickness of the arrows based on how strong and influential the relationships are. Then stand back and look at what the picture is telling you. Maybe you’ve been trying to influence a stakeholder unsuccessfully. Is there someone that they are influenced by that you could involve?
- Understand where you fit in. Put yourself on the stakeholder map and make the connections. Who do you have a good relationship with? Which stakeholder doesn’t even know that you exist?
- Consider what is important to each stakeholder. What is their agenda? What are they trying to achieve? What do you hear them talk about and pay attention to? Put yourself in their shoes and see the world from their perspective. It might surprise you how different they see the world. If you don’t know, go ask them.
- Create an action plan. A stakeholder map without an action plan is just a picture. Prioritise your top 5 – 7 stakeholders and for each stakeholder, create an action plan of how to influence them. Consider your current relationship with them and clarify what you’d like that relationship to be like. What do you want them to do or say to promote your agenda? How can you help them achieve what is important to them, and align it to your goals? Then, put the plan into action.
- Review the map continuously. Stakeholders change over time. It’s worth it re-looking at your stakeholder map every couple of months and update it. Add new stakeholders, take the ones that have moved on off the map. Continuously ask yourself who you should be focusing on and what you can do to strengthen the relationships.