>> Listen to the audio version to find out additional commentary about the topics discussed in this post!
This is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework”, an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.
Involving as many as possible of those who are affected by or have an interest in any project or initiative leads to a better process and greater results. But in order to manage a participatory process and gain all the advantages it brings, we have to figure out who the stakeholders are, which of them need to be involved at what level, and what problems they may bring with them. In today’s cast/post we will understand what do we mean by stakeholders, what are their levels of interest, why it’s important to understand it, who are the most valuable stakeholders and how we should analyze them.
What’s a Stakeholder Analysis?
A stakeholder analysis gives us a clear representation of where the stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization, stand relative to change and what needs to be done in order to get the support required to make our project successful.
Before moving on though let’s have a look at a couple of frequently asked questions.
What do you mean by Stakeholders?
Stakeholders are those who have an effect on or may be affected by your project/initiative. Often people make a mistake when they focus exclusively on their “target audience” in their project’s planning. You target audience is essential, in fact we will dedicate an entire episode to it, but you shouldn’t forget to give the same importance also to your stakeholders and their interests. Don’t forget that this is about winning support for your projects.
We started by understanding that a stakeholders analysis helps us winning support for our projects.
Here’s how I categorize stakeholders:
- Primary stakeholders: Are those who are directly affected, either positively or negatively, by your initiative – your project can benefit one group and at the same time it may have a negative effect on another. A participation policy, for example, benefits the end users/community, but it may imply additional work for the organization’s management/staff.
- Secondary stakeholders: These are people or groups that are indirectly affected, either positively or negatively, by your initiative. For example a project to optimize online sales could have a positive effect on the customer support personnel by reducing the number of cases they see, but on the other hand it might require more work for the IT team to optimize the e-commerce.
- Key stakeholders: Are those who can have a positive or negative effect on your initiative. They might belong to either or neither of the first two groups. An obvious key stakeholder is the CEO of the organization that is launching a project, but so might be the community management staff that work directly with the clients/customers. They both play a key role.
Aren’t audience members and stakeholders the same people?
Not always. The difference between the two is that stakeholders are clearly already interested in your organization and in your programs, while in your target audience you find existing consumers but especially potential consumers interested in your products/services. This means that some audience members like existing clients or key decision makers may be stakeholders, but others like prospects or leads may not. Your audience may be people that don’t know your organization at all, they may not even be interested in what your are doing.
Why is important to analyze stakeholders?
Every project involves a certain degree of change. Often this has a direct impact on stakeholder’s emotions and at times may even lead to encounter resistance. A stakeholder analysis can help us address these kinds of situations.
Generally stakeholders have an interest in a project or an organization based on whether they can affect it or be affected by it. The more they stand to lose or benefit by it, the greater their interest is likely to be. Same goes for their involvement, the more involved they are in the project or organization, the stronger their interest will be.
So the most important reason for analyzing and understanding your stakeholders is that it allows us to involve them as part of the project.
this means… better process, more ideas on the table, a better understanding of the community that is related to our initiative, and, ultimately, a more effective communications plan.
How to conduct a Stakeholder Analysis?
To start your journey to minimize the “resistance to change” on the right foot follow these four steps:
1) List all the stakeholders – staff, clients, community leaders, donors, key decision makers, etc.
- Supporters: They have both great interest in the project and the power to help make it successful.
- Advocates: They have a great interest and can voice their support in the community, but they have little power to influence.
- Potential: They have no interest in the initiative, but have the power to influence it significantly if they become interested.
- Indifferent: They are not really interested and have little influence. They may not even know that your initiative exists.
2) Rate the stakeholders indicating their “current” and “desired” willingness to embrace change (1-5).
- 1 = Strong resistance to change.
- 2 = Resistance.
- 3 = Neutral.
- 4 = Willing to change.
- 5 = Strong willingness to change.
It’s probably not going to be easy to get all stakeholders to a 4 or 5. Based on my experience though, digital projects that bring major cultural and technological changes, require a strong team effort so it’s important that you get the key stakeholders to at least a 3 (neutral) or better.
3) Plan what actions are needed to get the stakeholders to the desired rating rapidly. This will help you:
Prepare for how each stakeholder group will potentially react.
Plan on how you might use the support of those who will react positively to your initiative.
Mitigate the concerns of those who will react negatively.
4) Report the date when you last checked the status of specific stakeholders. I found this extremely useful in long term projects when you need to conduct stakeholder analyses multiple times at different stages.
Example: Let’s say that you have your partners (step 1 – identified the stakeholders group) and you rated them with a 2 because they might not be as happy as you are about this new project you are working on. So there is a certain level of resistance. You aim at taking them to level 3 or better, that’s the “desired” level of willingness to embrace change that you need for them (step 2 – rate “current” and “desired” levels of willingness to change). Then ask yourself what you could actually do to take them to level 3 (step 3 – plan actions). Finally, especially if you are working on a long time project, check the status of the stakeholder group at different times throughout the initiative (step 4 – report the date).
Identifying and involving stakeholders is a large part of ensuring the success of our initiatives. This analysis makes it easy to manage stakeholders based on their level of interest. Once we have this information, we can decide on the appropriate approach for each individual and/or group. Depending on our goals, we may either focus on the stakeholders with the most influence and interest, or on those who are most affected by our initiative.
Over to you
This is based on my experience, what would you adjust based on yours? What do you think about it? Is something missing? Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently? Let me know in the comments.