Why Adding the Word Relationship Makes All the Difference to Stakeholder Management

business change management business change skills change projects leading change stakeholders successful change Aug 24, 2022
Penguins being led
I don’t believe in Stakeholder Management”. I remember vividly the sponsor saying this to me with as little prelude in as if he was asking for milk in his coffee. I fact there was so little preparation for what felt to be quite a controversial statement, that I assumed that I had misheard him.


“Pardon”, I said, “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

He looked at me and said slowly and clearly, “I said that I don’t believe in Stakeholder Management”.

Well, there was no denying it now, but hearing it twice didn’t make it less controversial and he was clearly waiting for my view. And then I remembered Brene Brown’s technique of using the phrase ‘say more’ rather than immediately disagreeing. “Say more” I said and waited for him to explain.

What he went on to explain was that he didn’t believe that senior stakeholders should be managed because management was defined as the process of dealing with or controlling things or people and he felt that Stakeholder Management was therefore something a little manipulative and controlling. So, from that perspective I did partially understand because nobody wants to feel that they are being dealt with or controlled. He suggested Stakeholder Co-ordination, but I don’t love that as it doesn’t imply any influence and it feels a less active group of skills.

However, there is a much better definition of Stakeholder Management which is… ‘the systematic identification, analysis, planning and implementation of actions designed to engage with stakeholders’. However even that makes it sound a bit formulaic and process focussed, and while of course there is a process component to our work with stakeholders there is also that key component of relationship which is so central to any meaningful work with people on change.

So almost at that moment I decided to describe my work with stakeholders going forward as “Stakeholder Relationship Management” as that covers both the relationship elements including influence and collaboration plus the more process centric elements of delivering a consistent Stakeholder Relationship Management service fairly and equally to all stakeholders.

Does the addition of a name matter? Maybe it does, but in all honesty maybe it doesn’t as I do everything now that I used to do before with a different name. However, it makes both Sponsors and Stakeholders feel more considered and comfortable and that can only be a good thing, as sources of friction in these key relationships can easily de-rail change projects.

If you want to hear more about what is included in Stakeholder Relationship Management and to explore some scenarios in which it has helped, then please sign up to our upcoming Masterclass on the subject which is on 31st August at 6pm BST. Sign up here


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