As a marketer or business owner, part of your core responsibilities is to meet the requirements imposed by stakeholders to whom your business has obligations. These stakeholders can be involved in many different aspects of your day to day affairs, but one important process they may need to be involved in is that of designing your business website.
But who are your stakeholders exactly? And how much of a role do they play in your website?
Stakeholders could be a large list of people and institutions, internal and external, who have an important interest in your organization. These include:
- Primary stakeholders, such as customers, creditors, and employees who benefit directly from your company.
- Secondary stakeholders, such as regulators, government, and trade associations who have an interest in your company, but do not benefit directly it.
There may be many such stakeholders of both types. When you’re creating a website for your company, it’s important that you identify your major stakeholders and each of their particular interests. The reason is that when you have a large group of stakeholders, their interests in your company often conflict and you have to try to balance those interests.
For a website project, conflict can spell disaster. But the most successful companies manage the self-interests and expectations of as many stakeholders as possible.
Define Your Website Project’s Stakeholders
Throughout the process of building a new website for your business, stakeholders can include (but are not limited to):
- The project manager, sponsor, or management team
- Suppliers of related materials or other resources
- Related professional organizations
- Any individual or group impacted by the project
- Any individual or group in a position to support or prevent project success
There are many ways to identify which stakeholders should be involved and how much of a say each should have in your website’s development. This should be done in a methodical and logical way to ensure that groups of stakeholders are not omitted.
You can comb through potential stakeholders organizationally, geographically, or by involvement with various parts of the company, or parts of specific projects or outcomes.
For example, if the purpose of the website is to support marketing efforts, the company’s marketing manager (this may be you) and team should be involved, but so should the sales team, since their outcomes are related to the success of marketing efforts.
You can also look at those who are directly and indirectly impacted by the company’s overall success including managers and employees. If your project is being funded by another organization or someone not directly employed by your company, they should be included as well in order to protect their investment.
What Defines A Key Stakeholder?
Clearly, with limited resources, your organization can't do everything for everybody. You have to focus on the relationships that matter. You have to produce a short, more comprehensive stakeholder list. Graham Kenny, managing director of Strategic Factors, in his Harvard Review article suggests that in drawing up a focused list of key stakeholders, you should answer the following questions about each entry on your preliminary stakeholder list:
- Does the stakeholder have fundamental impact on your organization's performance? (score YES)
- Can you clearly identify what you want from this stakeholder? (score YES)
- Is the relationship with the stakeholder dynamic--do you want the relationship to grow? (score YES)
- Can you exist without or easily replace this stakeholder? (score NO)
- Has the stakeholder already been identified through another relationship or part of another group? (score NO)
Note that he’s discussing these questions in a larger, organizational-level context, but they are helpful when you’re trying to identify the stakeholders in your website project. Using these questions as a key, stakeholders can be scored from 1 to 5, or you can decide that any score represent inclusion in your key stakeholders list.
The Stakeholder Analysis Process
The stakeholder analysis simply requires a closer look at each stakeholder to assess them on the following criteria.
- What is their impact on or involvement with your website?
- What are their communication requirements? How often will they require updates?
- If they are a group, how cohesive are they?
- Are they generally positively or negatively impacted by the company’s success?
- How influential are they in your company or overall industry?
Stakeholder management involves using this stakeholder analysis process to work out optimal ways of meeting the needs or neutralizing the negative impacts of each stakeholder. By applying the stakeholder identification, analysis, and management process, organizations can significantly improve the success of their website project by insuring all bases are covered to meet everyone’s needs and goals for the company.
By grouping stakeholders by common needs, you can whittle down your list to a more manageable length and devise management strategies that make sense for groups of stakeholders.
Stakeholder management is an established discipline for which specific tools have been developed. The Stakeholder Communications worksheet is simply a form with space to fill in information for each identified stakeholder.
- Communications approach
- Key interests and issues
- Current support status (advocate, supporter, neutral, critic, blocker)
- Desired support (high, medium, or low)
- Desired project role (if any)
- Actions desired (if any)
- Actions and communications
The Power/Interest Grid is a two-by-two table in which stakeholders can be roughly characterized. The vertical dimension is the "Power" rating. The horizontal dimension is the "Interest" dimension.
- High-power stakeholders with low interest can be managed by keeping them satisfied.
- High-power stakeholders with high interest have to be managed closely.
- Low-power stakeholders with low interest should be minimally monitored.
- Low-power stakeholders with high interest should be kept informed.
The tools are useful for working out what you need to win over and manage each stakeholder you’ve identified. Focusing on the high-powered and most interested stakeholders first and the low-powered and least interested last, devise a practical plan for communicating with each stakeholder over the course of your website project. You should communicate just the right amount of information, neither under communicating or over-communicating.
Converting Difficult Stakeholders
Change brought about by business projects, especially something as involved as a website redesign or rebranding, can create difficult business stakeholders who feel endangered by change. Sometimes those stakeholders can be employees who resist technological or process changes. Sometimes they can be board members or managers who feel threatened by what the changes can mean for them financially or otherwise.
There is a strong correlation between stakeholder management and risk management. Without the buy-in and full commitment of key stakeholders, the risk of failure increases. Seven considerations have been identified to reduce the chance of unwanted stakeholder reaction.
- At the beginning, identify key stakeholders and identify the "what's in it for me" scenario that will gain a buy-in commitment. Stakeholders will respond if they feel their contribution and time are of true value and that they will benefit from them.
- Remain open and engage in open, frequent communication with stakeholders, allowing them an opportunity to voice concerns, be heard, and address important issues. Demonstrate your trustworthiness in dealings with stakeholders.
- Make sure the purpose and scope of changes and the expected roles and expectations are clearly established in advance. Make sure stakeholders know how their own contributions impact the success or failure of the project.
- Despite all efforts to mitigate disputes with difficult stakeholders, there will be times when issues will crop up. Keep trying to find resolutions of disputes that will result in buy-in.
As a digital agency that works with companies of all sizes and from all different industries, we’ve seen our fair share of different stakeholder scenarios. You make be the sole stakeholder of your website project if you are solely responsibility for your business—in that case, you only have to worry about keeping yourself happy! But when there are other players involved, the most important thing you can do is make sure everyone important is accounted for early, is communicated with clearly, and has their needs met by the parameters of the website project.