Stakeholder relationships can be complex and full of surprises and hence a perfect space for risk to simmer and sometimes erupt. Perhaps the single most important aspect of stakeholder relationships that sets them apart from other challenges you face is the extremely far reaching effect a poorly managed relationship can have. One minute you can be the flavour of the month and the next there can be a domino effect where first one customer finds you to be off-colour and the word gets out and next thing you know you have a crisis on your hands. It is no different for government agencies or the not-for-profit sector, people's perceptions of you can change very quickly. Here are a few points to get you thinking about managing risk in your stakeholder relationships:
We have all heard the phrase "perceptions are reality", however, do we really know how our stakeholders perceive us? To find out, your first step should be a stakeholder analysis. Gather your team, list your key stakeholders and discuss what you believe to be their perceptions of your organisation. Risk is potentially simmering if the team does not have a consensus on your stakeholders' perceptions. Periodical stakeholder surveys are also of great value.
Put yourself in your stakeholders' shoes. Think about what is important to them and how you would feel about your performance looking in only from the outside. Remember, they may have little appreciation of how difficult your situation has been or is about to be. They may only see or care about results. Then do a little scenario analysis. What actions or inactions might you consider if you were them? Consider the domino effect. If they start to perceive you badly and start acting on those perceptions, how far can it spread? Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.
As you know, risk is not all about doom and gloom. So when considering stakeholder relationships consider how best to ensure you maximise the benefits they can bring. Try to ensure you have common goals, similarly vested interests and a desire for each other to succeed.