Anything we want to achieve will affect other people in some way, so these all become stakeholders in our project. Understanding where to focus our effort with these stakeholders is crucial to success. Some will be affected positively by the project, and therefore likely to support it; others will see outcomes from what we want to achieve that they don’t want – they are probably going to oppose it. OK, so all we need to do is get together loads of supporters so they outnumber our opponents – easy, right?
Yes and no.We also need to take into account how influential each stakeholder (or stakeholder group) is.We can gather as many borrowers in support of a rate cut as we like, but if (eg) the Governor of the Bank of England is opposed to it, it just isn’t going to happen.The Support / Influence Matrix illustrates this nicely:
There are two quadrants in the matrix that are key to success – the obvious one is “Friends in High Places”, i.e. people who support what we are trying to do and who have a lot of influence.It’s unlikely that we’ll get a project off the ground without support at the right level.In the interest rates example, that might include people like large property investors.
The other key quadrant is “Dangerous Enemies”, the people who have enough influence to block our plans. If anything, these are more important to address than the friends in high places. It’s great to have influential backers, and it’s easy to get carried away with enthusiasm, and buoyed up by their support. But we underestimate our influential opponents at our peril. How we deal with them depends very much on understanding the source of their opposition – ideally we’ll be able to persuade them that the project is a good idea, but if we really can’t find any way it could benefit them, then we’ll need to neutralise their objections.
We also need to be very wary of the “Quiet Saboteurs”. They generally know they don’t have a lot of influence, so often stick to mutterings of discontent. Each individual mutterer won’t have that much effect, but if there are a lot of them, the repeated nature of their complaints can attract the attention of decision-makers, and leave them reluctant to ignore the apparent groundswell against the project. Regrettably, the same is not true of the Popular Support – we can have a vast number of cheerleaders in favour of our project, all nodding enthusiastically, but on the whole, decision-makers will go out of their way to avoid criticism by people with no real influence far more than they will to be praised by them. I guess we all like an easy life.
So, build up massive support from Friends in High Places, watch out for Dangerous Enemies, be careful about having too many Quiet Saboteurs – and don’t kid yourself that Popular Support will make all that much difference. This all seems like common sense, but it’s amazing how many people forget to analyse their stakeholders, particularly in terms of their influence.
I have one more theory: the ones at the ends of the support spectrum are not the ones to focus on. If one of our Dangerous Enemies is implacably opposed to a project, there’s not likely to be much we can do to change their mind. And our rampantly supportive Friend in a High Place is about as far from them as it’s possible to get – so they’re more likely to entrench the opposition than convert it. So forget about those two – the Enemy isn’t about to change, nor is the Friend. The ones to concentrate on are the ones closer to the middle.
It’s often said that we tend to like and trust those who are most like us. So our mild opponent (B in the diagram below) actually has more in common with our luke-warm supporter (C) than he has with the rabid enemy (A). This could go either way – C’s understated approval could persuade B to see the benefits of the project, or B’s reasonable concerns might give C pause for thought. Now here’s the rub: because B was closer to A, his moving over to the support side will have a much greater effect on A than any blandishments from our flag-waving champion (D). We may not get A all the way to support, but it could certainly reduce opposition to some extent.
So, for best use of time, effort money and resources, we should concentrate our focus on what I call the Influential Waverers.