Nov 07

Drive a stake through this cliché

Kill off “Stakeholders”. Not my esteemed business partners, suppliers, customers, technology, providers, shareholders, backers, funders, board members: I love you. Really.

It is just the word. “Stakeholders”. Worse still the phrase: “Stakeholder Management”. It is very convenient shorthand – and I have been guilty using it in CVs and general project communications. So what’s wrong?

It’s lazy. The shorthand conveniently lumps everyone involved in a project or enterprise into a single bucket. But they are all different. And they need to be treated differently. What is their stake? They are all in it for their own benefit, and they have to be approached and communicated based on their interest.

It’s patronizing. You don’t “manage” stakeholders. They cannot be herded like sheep or bossed around. You can influence their expectations and get them to deliver their commitments, but you don’t manage stakeholders.

It’s dangerous. Having “Stakeholder Management” as a simple heading encourages the mentality that this is a single task, which can be done once, or in a single communication, or in a regular meeting. Its continuous. It is different for each counterparty involved. It is multi-media. Its two-way.

Communicating change requires a different approach for each individual.

Communicating to people in an office about an upcoming move can’t be done in a single communication. Some will want to find out about the carpet colour or their chair, and will complain like hell about the new office if not involved. Others will want a detailed document about the move, being told each step in the move. Others will just want to be shown the boxes to pack, and the labels to stick on their belongings. Some will only be interested what pubs and cafes there are near the new office, or the route between the two. You have to communicate for every style and every possible concern.

I first came across “stakeholders” in employee communications from a bank I worked for. They communicated the need for change for the benefit of stakeholders: shareholders, management, employees, customers. The expensively produced video showed a bank branch manager who was now happily delivering milk. It just left everyone asking “Why?” and seeing a cynical underlying message. It failed because it tried to communicate change for the greater good, when you have to sell the benefits of the change to the individual.

I recently came across the one time you must use stakeholder; a small private bank to the horse racing community. They look after the prize money until it is paid out to the winner. They are the true stake holder.

So let’s kill off “stakeholder management” – unless you are really managing a real stakeholder.

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