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? 

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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.

Stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping is a key process for formalising your stakeholder engagement. Follow this four step process to establish a stakeholder map. Using a matrix to rate the factors that determine the relevance of each stakeholder group will provide another perspective on your business.

AccountAbility’s AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard specifies:

“In order to design stakeholder engagement processes that work, engagement owners need a clear understanding of who the relevant stakeholders are and how and why they may want to engage. The engagement owners need to understand not only the stakeholder group but also the individual stakeholder representatives.”

How you achieve this will, to some degree, will be determined by the size of your organisation. Assuming you don’t have huge resources at your disposal, what I suggest here is a pragmatic four step way to map stakeholders.

1.    Determine the factors that you will use to rate each stakeholder group. These might include:

  • statutory, or other responsibilities
  • their influence on your performance
  • your impact, or potential impact on them
  • geographical proximity,
  • their dependence on your business
  • any existing formal representation they may have on your business’s board or other committees and working parties
  • their relevance to your strategic intent
  • the potential for creating or enhancing shared value.

Select the factors that are most relevant in your first attempt. I especially recommend you include the last – creating or enhancing shared value. This is the factor that most aligns your stakeholder engagement with the win-win orientation of Sustainability 2.0.

2.   Create a matrix, with space for your stakeholder names in the first

broad stakeholder categories

column, and the factors you have chosen in the top row. In your first attempt, brainstorm to identify a list of stakeholders and then rank each factor, using a numerical scale, for each stakeholder group. I suggest a scale of 0 (no relevance) to 3 (high relevance). You might want to weight those factors that are critical so the numbers are potentially higher, but I recommend you start with unweighted factors to keep it simple – it will work. Here’s an example.

3.   Sort the matrix so stakeholders are ranked with those scoring highest at the top. Use a one-page matrix to consult with your colleagues (any more than one page makes the process too unwieldy). In meetings, conversations and workshops get your colleagues to rank stakeholders to establish a ranking that has broad consensus internally.

4.   Indentify your top 10 or so stakeholders and focus on these for the first year of formal engagement. This will pilot your processes and help to focus your engagement efforts with a range of stakeholders, and hopefully get some runs on the board. As you engage, you will unearth other stakeholders. In subsequent years, include stakeholders in this process and build from the initial 10 to a larger number.

As with other stakeholder engagement processes, some staff will find rating stakeholders challenging, as it requires them to consider their world from their stakeholder’s perspective. Expect this shift of perspective to be the first of many benefits from this process.