Stakeholders: can’t live without them and sometimes can’t live with them.
They are customers, providers, allies, employees, colleagues, the government, the media, competitors, influencers and many, many others. After reviewing a stakeholder map example that had 105 entries, I came up with at least 50 more.
What do they all have in common? They are people, departments, and organizations who can affect or be affected by:
- An Organization
- A Project
- A Strategy
- A Product or Service
How do stakeholders go wild?
Stakeholders, whether they have power or not, can mess up your day, week, year, or years to come. They can drive your salespeople up the wall and make your cash flow stop and your projections a joke.
At a presentation I gave for the Austin chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), there was no shortage of examples of these vanishing stakeholders. They weren’t tamed; they went “wild” for no apparent reason.
IIBA attendees identified wild stakeholders as those who:
- Promise something before they know if anyone can deliver it at that time or price (commonly known as vaporware among technologists)
- Complain that the project is too big, too complex, not the right thing to do and should be abandoned
- Promise to participate or purchase something, then back down, don’t show up, never call or answer calls!
You could probably identify many others from stories you’ve heard from colleagues and your own experiences.
Why do stakeholders seem to vanish at critical times?
Since stakeholders are human, with emotions, relying just on logic doesn’t fit for why they do or don’t do things. There’s no point in saying “they should”, “it’s obvious”, “anyone would”. They don’t, won’t, or even feel they can’t. And, they are right — from their point of view.
Sometimes there are even real legal constraints. Sometimes, there are varying legal constraints. One group requires one thing and one group doesn’t. Wearing masks during a pandemic or staying home are current examples.
The main reason it’s tough to keep all relevant stakeholders moving in the same direction is that each one has their own perception of risk and reward. To take action, their risk has to be tolerable and their reward has to be sufficient. They need to come to that conclusion themselves. That conclusion requires the right attitude. You can’t force them but you can try.
Are the best Platinum Profile Stakeholders™ Pigs or Chickens?
There are several old jokes about pigs and chickens. In one version, the chicken suggests to the pig that they make the farmer who takes care of them a nice breakfast. When the pig asks what kind of breakfast, the chicken without hesitating suggests ham and eggs. The pig points out that this is a big decision: the chicken is involved but he, the pig, is making a big commitment.
In your hunt for the best stakeholders, go for pigs not chickens. Get commitment. They will be there when you need them and they won’t wander off. They will also be your wing-men to help you with stakeholders you could never get and keep on your own.
To find the best and avoid the wild ones, you need to profile them to know whom you are hunting and what they want in return. Just as I suggest that you focus on attracting and keeping Platinum Profile Customers™, you want nothing less in your other stakeholders.
You also want to be able to quickly spot the “chickens” or worse, “RAW (Radio Active Waste) Stakeholders™”. They are out to destroy you and everything you stand for. Let them go — preferably to your competitor.
What about the Stakeholders you absolutely must have?
Worth asking is: “What do you do about the stakeholders whom you MUST have but who elude you? Maybe even taunt you?” My answer: blow them off. There’s always someone else. Maybe not the top, top, but there’s always someone or a group of someones almost as good or better for what you need. It’s possible they may come around. It’s possible that if you get the right combination of other stakeholders, they will have no choice but to join the group.
But, never rely on them. These people are the epitome of Geofrey Moore’s “laggards” from Crossing the Chasm with few of author Chris Anderson’s redeeming “long tail” characteristics to make them worth the effort and risk.
Taming Wild Stakeholders
Basically, you want to know who you need, what they need, and if you can deliver. Here’s what I recommend:
- Create a thorough stakeholder map based on your goal — get a sale, find an ally, etc.
Brainstorm by yourself and with help from other stakeholders whose opinion you value. Put everyone down. Then prioritize them.
- Describe your ideal “stakeholder” for this goal through a Platinum Profiling system.
Make sure it at least includes both demographics and psychographics. My system has over 50 analysis points. You want to know facts about them but you also want to know their attitudes, interests, opinions, values, lifestyle, and decision-making process that are relevant to achieving your goal. Their psychographics are more important to help you find those you can “tame” and get on your side.
- Examine your project, product/service, organization.
Determine how well you can deliver the reward they want and reduce their risk of saying “yes” to you and being committed. No one gets fired for saying “no”. Where there’s a match; go for them. This will improve your odds of stakeholder success.
- Make sure they work through their own “Buy-In Continuum™”.
The Buy-In Continuum™ is their personal self-determination process.
It has seven steps and they have to go through them all or they will bolt when you need them the most. The best practice in sales also has seven steps but these are not the same. These are from very different points of view.
- Don’t stop just because they said “yes”.
You will have to keep them engaged. You will have to manage that engagement process. Make sure everyone in your business understands this. Consider giving someone the authority to be your CSMO, Chief Stakeholder Management Officer. This person coordinates all the efforts to make sure nothing and no one who is vital vanishes.
Email me with your examples of wild stakeholders or ask me for a copy of my suggested stakeholder list. Just don’t faint when you see it!
Here’s to your success.