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The benefits of stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping gives businesses the insights they need to develop and execute successful strategies.

When it comes to managing both relationships and reputational risks, this is a critical and hugely beneficial process. A well-thought-out and well-considered stakeholder mapping process can lead to better business outcomes.

So why is stakeholder mapping important and what does it involve?

Why do we create stakeholder maps?

The first question to answer is why create a stakeholder map in the first place.

As a visual representation, a stakeholder map outlines stakeholders within organisations. It helps a business to systematically identify all individuals and groups who have an invested interest, potential impact, or role in the company.

Mapping provides insights into each stakeholder’s goals, concerns and stakeholder expectations (this can be on an individual or a collective level).

Understanding the intentions, perspectives and status of every stakeholder allows a business to better undertake stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management and the stakeholder map provides a complete and unified picture of the stakeholder landscape.

It is the baseline for your entire stakeholder engagement strategy.

Key stakeholders and stakeholder roles

Stakeholders vary hugely from business to business.

Most commonly, this could be customers, employees, shareholders or investors within your business. But these aren’t always a business’s only internal and external stakeholders.

Suppliers, community groups, media outlets, Governmental groups and trade associations. Even activist groups and strategic business partners can fall within your stakeholder mapping remit.

So the key to successful stakeholder mapping is recognising each one of these and understanding their individual and collective roles and influence and interest.

Creating a stakeholder map

When mapping stakeholders it’s obviously important to clearly state who they are and what their relationship with your company is.

But it is also important to understand each stakeholder’s potential strengths, benefits and risks that they may pose to your operations. By better understanding how any given stakeholder can have a positive or negative impact on your business, you create a better understanding of the tactics needed to manage closely, any given stakeholder.

Stakeholder Mapping Models

There are many different models and stakeholder maps you can employ. But it’s important to note that there is no one single ‘best’ model to use. Some models provide a particularly thorough and strategic way to categorise and prioritize stakeholders, these can include:

The Salience Model: is possibly one of the most comprehensive models. It helps to identify which stakeholder groups require immediate attention. It also proposes engaging different stakeholder types in specific ways. This can make it highly actionable in terms of outcomes and outputs.

Stakeholder Relationship Network: can provide a robust visual analysis of the stakeholder landscape. Creating detailed maps which illustrate stakeholder interconnectivity, priorities, interests, and other insights. This model can deliver a snapshot of understanding the entire ecosystem.

Stakeholder Network Analysis: offers sophisticated relationship mapping. Revealing influence patterns and flows between stakeholders helps determine key nodes for engagement.

Power Matrixes: there are two types of Power Matrix. The Power/Interest Matrix maps stakeholders based on their relative levels of influence and vested interest. While the Power/Predictability Matrix hones in on the predictability, or unpredictability of stakeholders.

These are some of the most commonly used models. But in real-terms, they’re individually imperfect.

The issues around stakeholder analysis models

One of the big problems with many stakeholder maps and models is quite simple that they’re old.

A lot of these models were devised during a period when the business landscape was wildly different to how it is now.

For instance, models such as power matrixes are arguably outmoded. The notion of power in business now, is very different to what it was when these matrixes where first devised.

Some of these models also provide an over-simplistic, reductionist view, of stakeholder relationships, lacking in context and actionability. For instance, perceived predictability or unpredictability is not a black-and-white issue, so a visual snapshot is not so effective, unless supplied supported with added detail and context.

Organizations should choose the approach that best fits their particular aims and goals and recognise that there is no “one size fits all” solution.

You may even find you have to incorporate elements of different stakeholder mapping tools to create the best possible outputs and outcomes.

Stakeholder mapping & management 101

Categorising your stakeholders is the first step in this journey. However, this can be a complex process, because there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

A quick Google search on stakeholder analysis and you’ll find articles saying there are two main types of stakeholders. Others will say four, others will say six, maybe even more.

So which is it?

In truth there a lots of ways to categorize stakeholders. But in the initial stage of developing stakeholder engagement strategy, try to keep it simple:

  • Internal stakeholders – These are the people within the organization such as employees, managers, board members, etc.
  • External stakeholders: these are the people and groups outside the organization such as customers, suppliers, investors, communities, government, media, etc.

From here you can create crossovers, sub-categories and priorities. For instance, Primary Stakeholders are important stakeholders who are vital to your operations. But these could be either internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, or a mix of the two.

Secondary stakeholders can indirectly affect your business and will most likely fall under the external bracket. While key Stakeholders often have great sway and influence within your business, but not always from the inside.

The goal here is to create a model that is both understandable and actionable.

It’s all too easy to bundle your various stakeholders together into a model or stakeholder matrix, and then create complications and complexities when things start to overlap.

This will make your stakeholder map incredibly difficult to interpret and harder to translate into real actionable measures.

Start simple… then add detail.

Define the purpose of your stakeholder map, by starting with why.

All of your actions and outputs should come back to this primary purpose.

Then, identify all your stakeholders. There may be many potential stakeholders involved, you don’t want to miss any key players, so focus on naming and identifying them all before diving deeper and getting mired in detail too soon.

By taking the time to map out all of your stakeholders and their relationships with each other, you can ensure you’re building a solid foundation for the next steps.

Once you’re confident you have all bases covered, begin to break down your broad stakeholder group into more detailed sub-sections and main stakeholder groups.

Within these groups, explore the potential risks and rewards inherent to each and establish relevant communications and engagement tactics. You may find that round-tabling scenarios can help you create engagement strategies, as well as help you nail down internal processes and systems for issues management.

Getting help with stakeholder management

The process of creating a stakeholder map and a stakeholder management plan, need not be a daunting one.

By starting simply and building out the details from a solid foundation, you can ensure that you’ve mapped out all of your stakeholders and their relative relationships with your business.

If you’d like to speak to the AMBITIOUS team about kickstarting a fresh stakeholder relations project, or perhaps to breathe new life into an existing stakeholder map or project, then get in touch… you’ll find our expertise in effective stakeholder management strategies hugely complementary to your strategies and operations.