Effective stakeholder management is a critical aspect of leadership, especially in complex and interconnected organizations. Stakeholders are individuals or groups who have an interest or influence in the success of a project, initiative, product, or organization. Effective stakeholder management involves identifying stakeholders, understanding their needs and expectations, and engaging with them proactively and consistently to build positive relationships and keep them informed.

IDENTIFYING YOUR STAKEHOLDERS

One of the first steps in effective stakeholder management is stakeholder identification. Leaders must identify all relevant stakeholders, both internal and external, who may be impacted by or have an influence on the initiative at hand. This may include employees, customers, suppliers, colleagues, other leaders, executives, regulators, and community members. I suggest putting together a stakeholder map. Within that map, list all your stakeholders, identify whether they are influencers, decision-makers, or subject matter experts, identify their pain points, and then determine how often you want to connect with them, e.g., once a week, once a month, or even once a quarter. Identify how you want to communicate with them, e.g., face-to-face, website, email, or Slack, and then designate who on the team will manage each stakeholder relationship. Dividing and conquering can be effective if you have many stakeholders. If you work as a product manager or a leader, ensure you spend a significant portion of your time and calendar on building those relationships so you can leverage them in the future.

INTEREST & INFLUENCE

Once stakeholders are identified, leaders must assess their level of interest and influence. This helps prioritize stakeholder engagement efforts and tailor communication and engagement strategies to meet the needs of different stakeholders. If you have inherited a fractured stakeholder relationship, you must work hard to restore integrity. This may involve having some authentic, tough conversations, taking on feedback, and working to resolve integrity leaks. There are four integrity leaks: keeping your word, saying what needs to be said, owning your responsibilities (practicing radical responsibility), and feeling your feelings. Identify the integrity leak in the stakeholder relationship and address it. Usually, in professional situations, it involves broken promises and lack of responsibility. Make sure you spend time regularly with key stakeholders—30 minutes once a week with the critical ones. Share your vision, strategic goals, roadmap and plans, blockers, and pain points. They will most likely share theirs too. Invest the time—go for coffee, have lunch, have 1-on-1 meetings. It makes all the difference.

REGULAR COMMUNICATION

Effective stakeholder management also involves ongoing communication and engagement. Leaders must keep stakeholders informed about relevant developments, seek their input and feedback, and address any concerns or issues that arise. By maintaining open and transparent communication, leaders can build trust and credibility with stakeholders, ultimately increasing their support for the initiative. Often, keeping a centralized website or SharePoint site that you can share with stakeholders is beneficial. This allows them to check in regularly on status, decisions, priorities, roadmaps, and next steps. Making it easy for them to access this “status reporting” information is critical. Then, in 1-on-1s, you can spend the time diving deep into problems and blockers or getting aligned. If there is an issue, writing executive summaries to keep senior leaders informed of the issue, root cause, and resolution steps is a great practice. Using tools like Slack to get quick answers to questions is also useful. Emails can work, depending on the organization and how they use emails, but be cautious as they can get lost in the email chaos. Choose your communication methods and tools carefully and appropriately.

VISION INCLUSION & ALIGNMENT

As a leader, you probably have worked with your team to identify a vision, whether an organizational vision or a product vision. I suggest going one step further and including your stakeholders in this process. This exercise to identify a vision and strategic goals always brings alignment and buy-in if you work on this together. It is a valuable exercise to embed that partnership!
In conclusion, effective stakeholder management is a critical skill for leaders seeking to drive change, achieve organizational goals, and align around visions, goals, roadmaps, and priorities. By understanding the needs and expectations of stakeholders and engaging with them proactively, leaders can build strong relationships, mitigate risks, and increase the likelihood of project success. In addition to communication, stakeholder management involves stakeholder mapping, relationship building, and conflict resolution. Leaders must navigate competing interests and priorities to ensure alignment and collaboration among stakeholders.