35,000. That is the estimated number of decisions an adult makes in a single day. Surprised? So was I. And while this estimate may leave room for discussion, there is no question that your life is chock-full of all kinds of decisions. Some are made on impulse. Some are based on logic. And of course some are much more complex than others. But regardless, you are constantly making decisions. It is no wonder the phrase “analysis paralysis” was coined. You are continually deciding your next move and reflecting about the one you just made.

In such a state, you have to consider the people, organizations, and even communities that are influenced and ultimately impacted by the decisions you make. Understanding the impact of what you do on others can move your career forward, get you noticed, or even, with disastrous consequences, put you in a state of crisis.

But there are ways in which you can achieve better and more productive outcomes. One of these approaches is by better understanding your stakeholders. And one way to accomplish that is by doing stakeholder analysis. Let’s take a look at what this is.

First of all, who is a stakeholder? We hear this term frequently, but what does it mean? Simply put, a stakeholder is a person, organization, or entity that has a vested interest in you or what you are engaged in doing. This could be your boss, your peers, your customers, your suppliers, and your community.  

Each of us has our own set of stakeholders, and each of them holds a special place in the work we do and the outcomes we achieve. But stakeholders can change based on the work you are engaged with, the job you are in, and the organization you are with.  

As you think about your stakeholders, there are some considerations you should keep in mind. If you do so, the likelihood that what you are working on will be successful increases, and you might have an easier time getting it done.

This is the first step: You have to identify who your stakeholders are. All of them. This means carefully thinking about the specific task you are trying to accomplish and identifying the stakeholders who will be affected by it, or those individuals you want to influence. Don’t leave anyone out — no matter their title or immaterial to decision-making process they may seem. This examination will help you. And it is best to do this as a collaborative effort, as you may overlook people.

Each of us comes to any given situation with own belief system and our own biases. In stakeholder analysis that can be particularly dangerous as you can exclude certain stakeholders for the sake of others. You may just be unaware of certain stakeholders or their importance. Or you may be allowing your own biases to distort your view of reality. One of the most dangerous forms of bias is confirmation bias. This is the tendency for you to interpret information and focus on making decisions based on your pre-existing view of something or someone. This can make you a prisoner to your own assumptions about people and circumstance. And this can be especially dangerous when it comes to identifying stakeholders and your assessment of their power and influence.  

So in this process you have to be critically aware of your own pre-existing beliefs as you begin your analysis or you may end up with your own predetermined end result. The inherent biases we have underscores the value of conducting stakeholder analysis collaboratively.

You can learn a lot from what risk experts in organizations do — scenario planning. They look at what is known today and what the uncertainties are, and then envision potential futures that could happen. You can do this with stakeholders. By examining what you predict could happen (all possible future states) in a given circumstance, what you think might likely happen (the likely future state), and then finally what you want to happen (the desired future state) you can better understand the role of your stakeholders in any given scenario.  

Does this take time? You bet. But if the stakes are high enough and the project or idea important enough, analysis like this on the front end can save time and money, and may even be the difference between something happening or it getting tabled. Not every project or idea may require this type of analysis, but for ones that have high stakes, it’s crucial.

Perspective is key to success. Many people look at something from the inside out — where they see something, what they envision, even what they want to happen with their stakeholders. Doing this can doom your process from the start. In stakeholder analysis, frequently we see things in terms of what we want, which is a fundamental mistake. Turn it around.

Your perspective must be your stakeholders’. You need to figure out how they see the world, what they think is important, and how they might be affected. Even whether or not they care about what you are doing. In this way, you are looking at stakeholders from the outside in. This perspective is invaluable. Expert salespeople know this ground.  They see what they are selling from the customer viewpoint and then create strategies that incorporate what they’ve learned.

Once you have mapped your stakeholders and understand their perspectives then you need to address some important questions. These include:

  • Have your stakeholders’ circumstances  changed or remained the same? Will they change if they haven’t already?

  • What are the interactions between your stakeholders that could influence the outcome of what you are trying to accomplish? Look at how stakeholders might be interacting with each other.

  • Are there non-stakeholders, in other words, people or groups not on your map that might be, based on some of your identified scenarios? If so, how could that influence your outcome? Can they be helpful? Can they be dangerous? Some of your biggest allies (or opponents) can be people you never even thought of.

  • What has been the history of interactions between you and your stakeholders? Have they been productive? What are those relationships like? What might you reconsider in your relationships with them?

A fundamental aspect of successful stakeholder relations is engaging with them on a continual basis; the time to activate your relationships with your stakeholders should not be when you need them. We all know the person we have not spoken with for years who out of nowhere reaches out to us and wants us to be a job reference for them. Relationships should be nurtured over time, and stakeholder engagement needs to be an ongoing process.
Stakeholder understanding, engagement, and relations are never-ending.  Once you stop paying attention to stakeholders, you can have the problems that occur when you stop paying attention to a relationship — the relationship withers and can eventually die. While this may be intentional and strategic, it should be a conscious decision that you make so you can maximize how you spend your time and with whom you place your effort.   As the American philosopher William James said, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.”

If the stakes are high enough and the project or idea important enough, analysis like this on the front end can save time and money, and may even be the difference between something happening or it getting tabled. ”

Jacqueline Strayer | Consultant, Professor & Brand Builder
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