No business is an island. Right from the word go, organisations need to build positive relationships with stakeholders to achieve long-term sustainable success. Your stakeholders, whether B2B suppliers or industry regulators, all have influence over your company performance and how it’s perceived. But mapping and managing stakeholder relations can be complex and resource intensive, especially when it comes to identifying and meeting individual and group expectations.
Here we explore who stakeholders are, and how stakeholder research can help develop and sustain a powerful, productive stakeholder network for your business.
Who are stakeholders?
Every organisation, from major gas and electric suppliers to small social enterprises, has stakeholders. Stakeholders are companies, groups or individuals who can affect, or are affected by your company’s actions. Stakeholders can be internal or external.
External stakeholders are not integral to the company but have an interest in its performance. A housing developer, for example has several external stakeholders, including customers (potential homebuyers and occupants), government (Local Authority Planning and Building Control), suppliers (architects, builders, service installers), creditors (banks, shareholders and investors) and community bodies (neighbouring residents, community groups with interest in the development’s social and environmental impact).
Internal stakeholders are integral to the company and include employees, managers and board members. Some of these may also be company shareholders, owning a direct stake in the business.
Each stakeholder will have different priorities and concerns depending on their position and outlook.
Understanding these is key for forging productive relationships and the best outcome for both individual projects and overarching business objectives.
How does stakeholder research work?
The first step is to identify all known stakeholders – whether individuals, groups or organisations that influence or will be affected by your company’s activities. It’s important to remember that stakeholders can be positive and negative (for example, a developer may face opposition from environmental or residential groups). They are also constantly evolving; new bodies emerge, and new opinions are voiced in response to change. For start-ups navigating stakeholder relations is critical, as failing to engage am important stakeholder from the start can severely undermine its success. An experienced research agency, such as TTi can help identify all relevant stakeholder bodies with a vested interest in your company’s work.
Depending on the aims of your stakeholder research, whether it is to determine and understand all your stakeholder expectations or assess primary stakeholders’ needs relating to a specific project, various methods can be implemented. These include:
- Focus groups – Small, facilitated group meetings with key stakeholder representatives to determine their interest and reactions to your company’s offering or project proposal.
- Gap Analysis – A blend of qualitative and quantitative research (typically interviews and surveys) to pinpoint the difference between stakeholders’ expectations of your company performance and actual delivery, allowing you to implement a focussed improvement plan and measure its results over time.
- One-to-one interviews – Expert-led interviews with individual stakeholders (usually senior contacts, CEOs, Directors, Department Heads and Account Managers) to gauge perceptions of your company or project, and motivations for using you.
Along with focus groups, in-depth interviews are particularly effective for managing internal stakeholder’s expectations, such as department managers, executive teams and board members, as you can determine the precise level of engagement needed to satisfy their requirements.
Due to the varied and disparate roles stakeholders take it’s important that survey and interview questions are tailored to extract the insight you need and that each research activity provides you with a series of actionable outcomes. Again, employing a seasoned research agency such as TTi will support this.
Benefits of stakeholder opinion research
Effective, regular research provides a sound foundation for identifying and tracking stakeholder expectations, both on a project by project basis and for evaluating overall positioning and whether your company’s on track.
For overarching company health, stakeholder research helps you:
- Identify key stakeholders – supportive and oppositional – and their importance, allowing you to draw up an effective engagement and communication plan to maximise stakeholder buy-in and support
- Understand your most powerful stakeholders’ motivations and satisfaction drivers – helping enhance relationships and build trust with key influencers
- Evaluate appropriate positioning of partnerships and initiatives by providing clear, accurate data on what is working and where strategic or operational adjustments are needed
- Get ahead by understanding stakeholders’ opinions on current and emerging issues enabling you to develop on-point reactive statements and communication plans
- Measure your company reputation against competitors – wider stakeholder benchmark research into competitors and industry peers helps highlight differences in approach and areas which need attention, helping strengthen company perception
- Understand employee opinions about key initiatives or company changes helping you plan and manage internal change successfully
- Kickstart Improvement – implementing a robust research framework that regularly and consistently measures stakeholder and employee satisfaction provides you with insight on where satisfaction is waning and change is needed, kickstarting a cycle of improvement.
Stakeholder research is also beneficial when it comes to rolling out large or complex projects or organisational changes, such as leadership or partnership changes.
Stakeholder research and analysis can help:
- Identify all key stakeholders – from the most powerful who need close consultation throughout to those who require little input but still need monitoring – helping inform project planning and linked communication activities. Getting stakeholders involved early will also help gain their support, and open opportunities to find out what resources are available to help, setting the project up for success.
- Prioritise stakeholders and understand what they value and what are their concerns – supporting effective communication and engagement planning. Research enables you to find out exactly what your stakeholders do and don’t want, including answering questions, such as what information they require and when, what do they want the outcome of the project to be, how do they want to be communicated with, and who influences their opinions, as such, do they also need to be involved in the project consultation? Doing this will help map each stakeholder’s expectations and what is needed to meet them, helping foster satisfaction and trust in your company’s intentions and way of working.
- Identify difficult stakeholders – not everyone may support your proposal, research can determine who’s not in favour, their concerns and guide you on what actions you can take to allay those concerns, helping smooth the project’s path and keep PR positive.
- Plan resources effectively – establishing the level of engagement each stakeholder needs will keep your team’s efforts focussed and lean. For example, a priority stakeholder might require close engagement and consultation via activities such as joint campaigns and press activities, while a stakeholder low on the interest radar, might need to just be kept informed of progress via newsletters, social media etc. Research ensures effort is targeted where it’s needed most, and – when conducted regularly – provide hard, accurate data on what engagement initiatives are working and which need attention, keeping activities productive and on track.
Need help with your stakeholder research?
TTi Global, a division of GP Strategies, has over 30 years’ experience of helping UK and overseas organisations understand and strengthen their relationships with key stakeholders and opinion formers. We work across all industries, conducting stakeholder analysis in Utilities, Automotive, Housing and Construction, IT, Finance and Manufacturing sectors, enabling companies to measure the impact of their engagement activities and set actionable priorities for the future.
To find out how we can help your business, contact us today.