Stakeholder mapping – for threat or opportunity?

To map stakeholders, AccountAbility’s approach is to rank each stakeholder with a number of factors. This approach provides some scaffolding to enable a more objective assessment. Here is a summary of these factors from an earlier version of AccountAbility’s AA1000SES. 

  • Responsibility – the organisation has, or in the future may have, legal, financial and operational responsibilities in the form of regulations, …etc.
  • Dependency – stakeholders who are dependent on an organisationʼs activities and operations in economic or financial terms
  • Influence – stakeholders with influence or decision-making power (e.g. local authorities, shareholders, pressure groups).
  • Representation – stakeholders who through regulation, custom, or culture can legitimately claim to represent a constituency
  • Proximity – stakeholders that the organisation interacts with most, including internal stakeholders …etc
  • Policy and strategic intent – stakeholders addressed through the policies and value statements

Threat bias

Notice how the bias in these factors is towards threat rather than opportunity? Sustainability initiatives, such as stakeholder engagement have developed in the context of threat. Corporates adopted social responsibility initiatives in response to criticism of their social and environmental performance. These were rearguard and defensive actions. Programmes such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are an example. In this century, corporate are exploring sustainability initiatives as a source of innovation and competitive advantage. I described this shift in an earlier post – What is Sustainability 2.0?

If your organisation wants to express its sustainability initiatives as an opportunity, it would pay to change the factors used in stakeholder mapping to, at least, balance opportunity and threat.

This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • creating a higher weighting for opportunity factors
  • reducing or combining threat factors
  • adding opportunity factors.

For example, you might combine threat factors such as responsibility and dependency, thus halving their influence in a final rating. Adding an opportunity factor, such as “potential for creating shared value” will further shift the balance. The “shared value” factor identifies those stakeholders the organisation can work with to create shared value. An example could be using a waste product from a stakeholder as a raw material, or supporting education initiatives to upskill the local population as a potential labour force.

Anthony Robbins identifies pleasure (opportunity) and pain (threat) as two motivating forces. Avoiding pain may be a stronger motivator than moving towards pleasure. Is this the case with sustainability and stakeholder engagement? If we are responding to perceived or potential threat we will probably develop a compliance mentality – and I don’t think compliance is that motivating. I would like to think that an aspirational approach based on pursuing engagement opportunities with stakeholders is more motivational. What do you think? 

Public Participation Spectrum

Alexis Lindsay’s excellent blog led me to the Public Participation Spectrum. The spectrum outlines engagement intensity from informing through to consulting, involving, collaborating and empowering. The model is also relevant to engagement in the commercial world. For example, how would your staff rate the degree of participation that you enable? The five levels of engagement/participation could also be applied as a dimension of stakeholder mapping.

Here is a link to a one-page summary of the Public Participation Spectrum.

Stakeholder mapping part 2

Part one of this post featured the stakeholder map. For those who want to cast the net wider when identifying stakeholders two possibilities are online surveys and email data mining. But it may be more useful to just get started and regard the stakeholder map as an iterative process.

Stakeholder mapping is one of the first things to do when formalising your stakeholder engagement. A stakeholder map as outlined in an earlier blog, is central to this process.

I recommend that you keep the process as simple as possible and avoid over-planning or over-complicating the stakeholder mapping process. It can be initiated by a small of group of people, ideally with some external facilitation to ensure that the focus is on external stakeholders. Your initial attempts at a stakeholder map (or matrix) can be shared with others and updated accordingly.

On the other hand, if you want to cast the net more widely a couple of suggestions follow.

1. Surveying staff

You can quickly set up an online survey using a website such as Survey Monkey. Ask staff to identify two or three external stakeholders for a series of perhaps five questions. Here are some ideas:

  • Identify two or three stakeholder groups that have some legal or regulatory influence on the work you do.
  • Identify two or three stakeholder groups that you think are impacted by our operations.
  • Identify two or three stakeholder groups that you believe we could create shared value with.
  • Identify two or three stakeholder groups that might share our aspirations.
  • Identify two or three individuals, external to our company, who you believe are most important to the sustainability of our company.

The collated results will help to populate your stakeholder map. But avoid making the map too big. Use the same ranking system as outlined in the earlier post to identify your most relevant stakeholders. The beauty of using a tool such as survey monkey, is that the information will be collated for you. If possible, supply three text fields for each question, so the responses are easier to sort.

2. Mining email data

Your techies should be able to provide a means to identify the domains most frequently used by your staff when emailing externally (hopefully its not ebay or Facebook :-). For example, which government department do we have most contact with? Or which of our suppliers do we generate most email traffic with? And a ratio of internal to external email will provide a raw indication of how externally orientated the company and its departments are.

Can anyone suggest software that might achieve this?

Remember, these two methods may give you a more complete picture for stakeholder mapping, but if they slow the process down, their value will be minimised. Make your stakeholder mapping an iterative process – its more useful to get out there and encourage other staff to get out there, and engage and revise the map as you go.