Taking Stakeholders Seriously

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

|Photo by Robert Higgins|http://www.flickr.com/photos/37893534@N07/4779016818|

“Stakeholder” is a big word in our practice at IISC. When it comes to our collaborative change work, we take  stakeholder analysis very seriously, in certain situations spending a few days to complete this critical task. The aim is generally to surface the names of those groups and individuals who as a sum total will help to ensure that we have the system represented in the room. What this means is pushing people, at times, into uncomfortable places to consider typically unheard voices and those they have outright resisted inviting to the table but without whom they could not hope to make the kind of change to which they aspire.

Typically we engage in a conversation with our clients and partners that asks them identify, in the context of some given change effort, those whose stakes are defined in the following ways:

  • They are responsible for making the final decision
  • They are responsible for implementing the final decision
  • They are supporters of the initiative
  • They are possible or likely blockers of the initiative
  • They have relevant resources or expertise
  • They will be affected by the outcome of the initiative

Of course, this yields a small or large universe of stakeholders for consideration, all of whom will not necessarily be involved or involved in the same way in the change effort.  But as we like to say, if they are not considered at all, they will certainly not be involved.  From this point we work with a “process design team” to select those who are critical and core to the effort, and those that are in some sense more peripheral.  What I can say for sure is that it is almost always the stakeholders who were not thought about initially, whether overlooked or dismissed, who end up serving as some kind of critical catalyst in the process, bringing fresh thinking, new networks, and needed energy to the work.

From rigorous analysis and strategic selection, engagement efforts deepen.  It is not enough to simply think of and invite stakeholders.  As Carol Sanford writes:

“To honor a stake requires understanding and valuing it from the stake of the stakeholders.  It requires engaging in a relationship that is reciprocal . . .   Entering into a stakeholder relationship requires both consciousness and transparency.  When a relationship is based on these values, then all parties are enabled to take responsibility for success.”

Sound like a lot of work?  The benefits well outweigh the upfront investment – new perspectives, resources, greater diversity of experience and ability, resilience, sustainability, creativity, innovation.  The work of stakeholder engagement done well in and of itself can be a manifestation of the social justice ends we seek – democracy in action and sharing power.  And there is always something new and evolutionary to be learned from our honest and earnest efforts in this direction.

Looking forward to hearing your reactions and stories about what happens when stakeholders are taken seriously.

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