Stakeholders Matter

Managing the growing number and diversity of IS stakeholders is a demanding leadership challenge for CIOs. IS stakeholders now include business units, business partners, users, consumers, IS staff and external agencies, such as regulators, and more.

In some cases, these groups hold seemingly irreconcilable differences. In the words of my colleague, Andrew Rowsell-Jones, who recently completed our research in this area: “The endgame is to turn as many of your stakeholders as possible into influential supporters, because without proper management, they may not only block your initiatives, they may become truly disruptive.”

The difficult task is determining which stakeholders need close attention and which approaches work best. Our approach might seem a bit machiavellian, but it should now be part of the ‘competency toolkit’ of every executive – especially CIOs.

Distinguish stakeholders by pull and stance

There are many types of stakeholder – some more demanding than others. But demand is not necessarily the best determinant of priority. It’s better to understand their pull and their general stance to IT issues.

Stakeholder pull essentially means the influence of a person or group on a decision. Pull has three attributes: power, urgency and legitimacy.

Most managers tend to focus only on the power. Power gives lots of pull, but urgency and legitimacy also matter because they can increase a stakeholder’s influence.

For example, stakeholders with only a “legitimate” claim have the least pull. Individual environmental enthusiasts might be considered in this group. Add urgency, whether real or apparent, to their claim and their pull increases. If they have urgency and legitimacy they can get power.

Stakeholder stance is the amount of support or opposition a stakeholder has toward an issue. It’s your task to discover what this is.

Mapping stakeholders into four groups

Mapping stakeholders by pull and stance segments them into four categories: influential opponents (the most dangerous), influential supporters (your power base), weak supporters, and weak opponents.

Based on these categories, you can devise your management tactics.

Priority 1: Recruit your persuadable opponents to the cause

Focus first on influential opponents. Exploit existing relationships. Use your “bank of political capital”, as one CIO put it, plus any other bargaining chips you have, in return for their support.

Priority 2: Restrict your influential opponents

If this doesn’t work, aim to restrict their influence. Use the decision-making process to dilute their pull. Work with senior management, or use the IT council or other aspects of the governance processes to diminish their influence.

Priority 3: Retain your influential supporters

Next deal with your influential supporters. Your goal is to maintain their stance and protect their pull.

Generally, the most effective tactic is to deal with individual stakeholders or groups directly, using informal networking, rather than using the decision-making environment to keep tabs on their position.

Priority 4: Recognize your weak supporters

Where you find weak supporters, use IT councils and other aspects of governance processes to replace the weaker pull of individual stakeholders with the much stronger pull of an influential group.

Priority 5: Review your weak opponents

It’s risky to ignore weak opponents, because they may not remain weak.

Reviewing their status also allows you to recruit those who will change their position to become supporters.

One of the more difficult stakeholder groups to address is a network army. It usually has weak but passionate stakeholders, who coalesce around a cause or an event to create powerful armies. Examples include the open source movement and environmental groups.

A mix of management techniques underlies these tactics

Different management techniques can considerably change the dynamics of managing the pull of your IS stakeholders.

Relationship, negotiation and engagement are aimed at changing (or embracing) the stance of an individual, whereas senior management, governance and steering committees change the power or pull of individuals.

Many CIOs intuitively understand power and influence, especially when dealing with the demands of stakeholders. But sometimes it really helps to sit down and work through who has what type of pull and what is their stance. Then work through how to deal with each group, using a targeted mix of techniques and tactics. Good luck!

Dr. Marianne Broadbent is Group Vice President and Global Head of Research for Gartner’s Executive Programs.