Steps in Identifying Stakeholders

Identifying all of a firm‘s stakeholders can be a daunting task. In fact, as we will note again shortly, a list of stakeholders that is too long actually may reduce the effectiveness of this important tool by overwhelming decision makers with too much information. To simplify the process, we suggest that you start by identifying groups that fall into one of four categories: organizational, capital market, product market, and social. Let‘s take a closer look at this step.

Step 1: Determining Influences on Mission, Vision, and Strategy Formulation.
One way to analyze the importance and roles of the individuals who compose a stakeholder group is to identify the people and teams who should be consulted as strategy is developed or who will play some part in its eventual implementation. These are organizational stakeholders, and they include both high-level managers and frontline workers. Capital-market stakeholders are groups that affect the availability or cost of capital—shareholders, venture capitalists, banks, and other financial intermediaries. Product-market stakeholders include parties with whom the firm shares its industry, including suppliers and customers. Social stakeholders consist broadly of external groups and organizations that may be affected by or exercise influence over firm strategy and performance, such as unions, governments, and activist groups. The next two steps are to determine how various stakeholders are affected by the firm‘s strategic decisions and the degree of power that various stakeholders wield over the firm‘s ability to choose a course of
action.

Step 2: Determining the Effects of Key Decisions on the Stakeholder.
Step two in stakeholder analysis is to determine the nature of the effect of the firm‘s strategic decisions on the list of relevant stakeholders. Not all stakeholders are affected equally by strategic decisions. Some effects may be rather mild, and any positive or negative effects may be secondary and of minimal impact. At the other end of the spectrum, some stakeholders bear the
brunt of firm decisions, good or bad.

In performing step 1, companies often develop overly broad and unwieldy lists of stakeholders.
At this stage, it‘s critical to determine the stakeholders who are most important based on how the firm‘s strategy affects the stakeholders. You must determine which of the groups still on your list have direct or indirect material claims on firm performance or which are potentially adversely affected. For instance, it is easy to see how shareholders are affected by firm strategies—their wealth either increases or decreases in correspondence with the firm‘s actions. Other parties have economic interests in the firm as well, such as parties the firm interacts with in the marketplace, including suppliers and customers. The effects on other parties may be much more indirect. For instance, governments have an economic interest in firms doing well—they collect tax revenue from them. However, in cities that are well diversified with many employers, a single firm has minimal economic impact on what the government collects. Alternatively, in other areas, individual firms represent a significant contribution to local employment and tax revenue. In those situations, the effect of firm actions on the government would be much greater.

Step 3: Determining Stakeholders’ Power and Influence over Decisions.
The third step of a stakeholder analysis is to determine the degree to which a stakeholder group can exercise power and influence over the decisions the firm makes. Does the group have direct control over what is decided, veto power over decisions, nuisance influence, or no influence? Recognize that although the degree to which a stakeholder is affected by firm decisions (i.e., step 2) is sometimes highly correlated with their power and influence over the decision, this is often not the case. For instance, in some companies, frontline employees may be directly affected by firm decisions but have no say in what those decisions are. Power can take the form of formal voting power (boards of directors and owners), economic power (suppliers, financial institutions, and unions), or political power (dissident stockholders, political action groups, and governmental bodies). Sometimes the parties that exercise significant power over firm decisions don‘t register as having a significant stake in the firm (step 2). In recent years, for example, Wal-Mart has
encountered significant resistance in some communities by well-organized groups who oppose the entry of the mega-retailer. Wal-Mart executives now have to anticipate whether a vocal and politically powerful community group will oppose its new stores or aim to reduce their size, which decreases Wal-Mart‘s per store profitability. Indeed, in many markets, such groups have been effective at blocking new stores, reducing their size, or changing building specifications.

Once you‘ve determined who has a stake in the outcomes of the firm‘s decisions as well as who has power over these decisions, you‘ll have a basis on which to allocate prominence in the strategy-formulation and strategy-implementation processes. The framework in the figure will also help you categorize stakeholders according to their influence in determining strategy versus their importance to strategy execution. For one thing, this distinction may help you identify major omissions in strategy formulation and implementation.
Having identified stakeholder groups and differentiated them by how they are affected by firm decisions and the power they have to influence decisions, you‘ll want to ask yourself some additional questions:

  • Have I identified any vulnerable points in either the strategy or its potential implementation?
  • Which groups are mobilized and active in promoting their interests?
  • Have I identified supporters and opponents of the strategy?
  • Which groups will benefit from successful execution of the strategy and which may be adversely affected?
  • Where are various groups located? Who belongs to them? Who represents them?

The stakeholder-analysis framework summarized in the figure is a good starting point. Ultimately, because mission and vision are necessarily long term in orientation, identifying important stakeholder groups will help you to understand which constituencies stand to gain or to lose the most if they‘re realized.

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