News & Insight
May 2004

Gaining Influence and Buy-in Through Stakeholder Analysis

Deborah R. Bernstein

When you launch an organizational change initiative, take on a team project or start a new job, it’s often very helpful to begin by conducting a formal “stakeholder analysis” -- a process that identifies people who have a vested interest in what you are going to be doing and develops strategies to win their support or minimize their opposition.

For example, a corporate marketing director looking to launch a major advertising campaign may want to make sure the chief financial officer is on board with the program before it is presented to the entire senior management team for approval.

Who are stakeholders? They may vary from project to project, but, essentially, they are members of an organization -- usually senior management -- who are in a position to approve or block a decision that will affect them. They may also be people in a position to champion an initiative to success … or derail it.

There are three steps to a successful stakeholder analysis.

First, identify the major stakeholders and assess their level of support.

In a large change-management initiative, there may be as many as a dozen key stakeholders -- ranging from the chief executive officer on down -- whose opinions are important and can influence others. In smaller initiatives, there may be fewer.

Once you’ve identified your key stakeholders, go down the list and ask yourself the following questions:

* Who might want to undermine, derail or sabotage this project?
* Who can help prevent that from happening?
* Who needs to champion this initiative?
* Who can help us achieve success?
* Who can influence others?

Check off where your stakeholders are now, where you need them to be, and examine the gaps. You don’t need to have everyone’s support; sometimes, it’s enough to move a person who’s “strongly opposed” to “neutral” or even “moderately against.”

It’s rare when an entire executive team is 100% in agreement. Usually, there’s at least one dissenter; sometimes there are several. There are a variety of reasons why people may not support an initiative, including fear that the proposed change will diminish their power and the fact that they may have a different “agenda.”

Next, develop your strategy for approaching key stakeholders.

After you’ve identified the people you need to influence, and the directions they need to move, map out your plan for approaching them. You can either plan your strategy alone or confidentially with a trusted colleague.

This is where I see the hugest failure of stakeholder analysis -- poor or no execution. It’s worth taking the time upfront to do the stakeholder analysis than it is to fix things later if you don’t.

It’s often helpful to do some role-playing with a colleague or an executive coach, so that you are clear in what you want to say and how you want to say it when you or your colleagues meet individually with your key stakeholders. Ask yourself, “What’s the desired outcome from this meeting? How am I going to achieve this objective?” Otherwise, when you sit down with your stakeholders, you can lose control of a critical discussion. Your conversation should be direct, but also empathetic. “I know you feel very strongly about this project, as I do. I want to understand your concerns and address them, so that we might find some common ground to agree upon.”

An executive I know used stakeholder analysis successfully with a presentation to her executive committee. The subject was controversial and she thought the senior management team was going to chew her up alive. So she figured out who her key stakeholders were, went to them individually ahead of time, and said, “I really respect your opinion …would you mind giving me some feedback on the presentation I’m going to make next week?”

The executive committee members gave this woman some excellent comments. When she made her presentation in the board room, they nodded approvingly because they had championed her and had already bought into the proposal, which incorporated their suggestions.

Finally, evaluate your approach and determine what you can do better next time.

Like any process that involves other people, stakeholder analysis is subject to many variables. What works well for one person may not work with another. Review your efforts and identify steps you can take to perform better in the future. In the end, the time you invest in preparing and carrying out your stakeholder analysis will pay for itself many times over.

Deborah R. Bernstein is a member of WJM Associates’ executive coaching and organizational effectiveness faculty.

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