Strategies and theories have been around for decades on how to influence key stakeholders to advance an agenda or initiative. That approach fit simpler times and simpler business decisions. But times have changed, and just influencing stakeholders is no longer sufficient to create and sustain large-scale change. The challenges you face are more complex, the stakeholders you serve are higher in number, more socially conscious, and more publicly aware of the choices you make than ever. It’s time to move from trying to influence stakeholders to integrating them into your business in ways that support what they care about and what you care about, whether internal or external to your organization.
Stakeholders are those that have a stake in issue, and they bring more to the table than their stakes. There are clear benefits to integrating stakeholders into your plans and decisions. They:
Bring expertise and a perspective that differs from your own
Help you refine the scope and improve the quality of your initiatives
Direct you to unknown resources
Can become your greatest advocate and voice of the customer
Can reveal your blind spots and highlight where controversy might exist in your plans
Help ensure you are addressing real world dilemmas, not just offering generic products and services
To achieve these benefits means creating a community of “learners” who will co-create a new way of being and interacting with you to foster collaboration, inquiry and openness for the sake of the business and who it serves. This requires working with them in new ways, and it requires helping your stakeholders grow and develop themselves to increase their capacity to work with and support your ambitious goals.
Bigger goals demand greater capacity to think, reflect, learn, act and move forward – for everyone, including your stakeholders. You have something you are trying to achieve, and you need to bring people along on the journey with you.
Your options are to fundamentally change the way someone sees the world (so they see different possibilities for action) or to connect with people in their current worldview and align your communications with how they see the world today. The first option requires someone to be a different person to take action, the second does not. Since action of course, is often your goal, you will need to work with your stakeholders in a deeper way that changes the way they see things and understand and develop them in 11 attributes:
Mindset (what they believe)
Mental models (why they believe what they believe)
Social Standing (who influences them)
Positions (their stance on an issue)
Capabilities and confidence (to support you)
Level of control
Type and degree of power
Values and preferences
Actions they will and will not take
What are some ways to work with stakeholders to gain this understanding?
Invite them into concept mapping sessions on important issues, which is a process of mapping and understanding assumptions, ideas and inferences. This is helpful to understand and work with their beliefs and mental models. You can also invite them to large-group meetings to solve problems using methods like future search, open space and world café dialogues.
Invite them to attend internal training programs to learn and grow with you. For example, at Boeing we regularly hosted customers and suppliers in our leadership development programs, and their perspective had significant impacts on what our leaders learned and how they approached their businesses post-program.
Want to know more? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the FREE Stakeholder Attributes tool, a tool to assess your stakeholders in the 11 key attributes and learn what drives them toward or away from your ideas.