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High stakes: How to do stakeholder mapping and analysis

Positive stakeholder engagement is an essential part of any successful digital project or digital change initiative.

But what is a stakeholder? The traditional definition of a stakeholder is an individual, group or organisation that is impacted by the outcome of a project – they hold a stake in it. Anyone could be a stakeholder, from internal project team members, senior management and product testers through to external interest groups who will be impacted by the project after its completion.

Many, though not all, of these people will want to influence the outcome in some way. You want to persuade them that their goals align with your project and that they should support your mission, while compromising as little as possible in the process.

I partly agree with this definition. But it’s not just about persuading and influencing. It’s also about learning from other people and asking for help. Before we start persuading, we need to understand our stakeholders. What’s in it for them? What are their needs? How does your project really align with their goals and values? What knowledge, experience or expertise do they think they can contribute? I’ll talk more about this in my next article.

The first thing you can do is map your stakeholders and analyse their needs and drivers. Do this at the very start of your project. Stakeholder engagement won’t work if you start when you’re getting ready to launch – it’ll be too late to ask people for their input, you’ll just want them to get on with it. (Yes, we’ve all been there!)

Making the map

Matrix one: influence and support

Matrix one: influence and support

To help you understand your stakeholders and choose the best engagement approach, I use a stakeholder mapping model with two matrices.

The first has the axes influence and support, the second has the axes importance and interest. You can choose to have different parameters on your axes or combine them differently; decide this based on the question you’re trying to answer.

If your main problem is a lack of interest in or awareness of what you’re trying to do among some potentially important stakeholders, then importance/interest in the project may be the right combination for you. If your project is creating change, then the influence/support grid brings the right answers.

Matrix two: importance and interest

Matrix two: importance and interest

To use this model, write down all your stakeholders on post-its and stick them on the matrices. This exercise usually results in lots of stakeholder post-its, so it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

How can we work with them all? You’ll have to prioritise.

Interpreting the map

Often, people who are supportive are the people we love to hang out with, because they’re already on the same wavelength. But it’s actually the stakeholders who are influential (and not supportive) that we should spend most energy trying to win over. Luckily, you can ask your supportive stakeholders for help with this.

The person who is not very interested but important may increase their interest as the project progresses if you feed them nuggets of information. If someone is neither interested nor important, just keep them up to date.

Bear in mind that people move within and between different segments. That means an uninterested, influential stakeholder can become a highly interested, influential stakeholder. If you planned your stakeholder engagement right, your work in keeping them up to date will pay off.

It’s also important to know who influences who. Too often, stakeholder mapping focuses on top and middle management. But people in those positions will rely on the advice of their experts when making decisions. So it’s those people who you really want to win over and keep involved.

Saying all this, it’s important to be realistic – you can’t please everybody. In the words of Gladys Knight, “someone always wants you to sing a song that isn't necessarily on your set list”. The show must go on. It’s important to map out who those potential hecklers are, especially if your project will change how things have been done for years.

And it’s good to know when to stop. However important for you and your project, sometimes we have to take the foot off the pedal and wait for the next opportunity to try again with that stakeholder. Remember: listening and reading people’s cues is one of the most important soft skills for leading change in organisations.

Applying the map

This stakeholder analysis exercise helps you define actions per stakeholder, ideally one action that works for a few. Putting these actions together will form the basis of your communications plan for the project.

Stakeholder mapping is one of the stops on the Digital Leadership Forum journey, happening 8-9 May 2019 in London. Find out more or get in touch.