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Last updated on 12/21/23

Identify the Key Stakeholders and Their Agendas

Understand the Importance of Adapting to Your Stakeholders

However important a role technology plays in the disruptive forces we’ve looked at - and in the solutions that you will craft in your digital transformation roadmap - remember that none of this will work if you don’t get the human element right.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan of a quarter of a century ago, “It’s the people, stupid!”

You saw in Part 1 that Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce.com) said: “Every digital transformation is going to begin and end with the customer.” Adding to that, whether your digital transformation plan wins or loses will depend on whether you can get the people inside your organization to support it - across all three stages of the framework, we explored in the previous chapter.

Identify the 7 Types of Stakeholders

To help you get that support, you should learn how to identify key stakeholders - and understand their motivations. In 2015, CEB (The Corporate Executive Board Company), which is now part of Gartner, published some interesting research that identifies seven types of stakeholders within typical organizations. In order of the positive influence they wield in getting buy-in for your digital transformation plan, they are:

  1. The Go-Getter - who champions organizational improvements, supporting others’ good ideas; always delivers more than asked, learns from mistakes, and moves on.

  2. The Teacher - who often teaches new insights, whose input is often sought by colleagues and senior executives and is good at convincing others.

  3. The Skeptic - who perceives unclear projects as risky, prepares influential stakeholders for disruptive ideas and believes change programs require small wins first. The Skeptic needs to understand why the change program needs to happen.

  4. The Guide - provides honest information typically unavailable to change drivers, and goes on to distribute information equally.

  5. The Friend - is readily accessible and can help provide access to the other (major and minor) stakeholders within the organization.

  6. The Climber- is influenced by a sense of personal gain and wants rewards for risks taken. Climbers like to tell others about the successes they have championed.

  7. The Blocker- a conservative stakeholder who believes that stability is a goal in and of itself, seeing improvement projects as distracting.

Here is a recap of the different groups:

Image with a face associated to each group of people.
Mobilizers, Talkers, and Blockers make up all teams.

According to CEB's research, here is how likely each of them is to be on board.

Overview of all the profiles and how common each of them are. The graph shows that Mobilizers are the ones likely to drive organizational action, the talkers balance each other out - some will help others won't, and the blockers are unlikely to.
Identifying who is likely or not to react well to your project will help you develop a strategy to win the support of your stakeholders.

The Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics are collectively described as Mobilizers, while Guides, Friends, and Climbers are classed as Talkers. At 38%, the Blockers make up the largest group of people you’ll encounter. 

To get the Mobilizers on board, you need to capture their attention in a way that motivates them to champion a change in strategy, so they will rally the support of other stakeholders to win the organization’s support for your project.

Win Over the Blockers

Winning the support of the Blockers is more challenging - their instinct will be to resist change. Your most likely route to success is with the assistant of one or more of the more enthusiastic stakeholders, rather than trying to tackle them alone. You will need to:

  • First, secure support from other stakeholders and get them to agree to help overcome the Blockers’ objections.

  • Identify which elements of your proposed project are negotiable versus non-negotiable,

    and determine to which of the negotiable elements the Blocker(s) may react positively.

  • Prepare concessions you can give ground on without losing the support of your Mobilizers.

  • Demonstrate clearly the cost of doing nothing - the default outcome of the proposal.

Image of someone walking up stairs to winning over the blockers, with each of the stages listed.
Winning over the Blockers is possible, by patiently following a step-by-step process.

Find Out How a Fictional Set of Stakeholders at the Blue Cross Were Convinced to Get on Board

🐕 Let’s think about how a team at Blue Cross might have come together to decide to launch the Tap Dogs project.

Say the project was Jane’s idea, and she needed to convince a group of five decision-makers within the organization, of whom two were Blockers (Pete and Sara), two were Mobilizers (Elaine a Teacher and Phil a Go-Getter) and one Climber (Jim).

Organizational chart with all of the roles in their categories.
Same as in all organizations, Jane's team was made up of a variety of stakeholders.

Jane had spent some time thinking about how the charity world was changing. She’d pulled together the SWOT analysis we saw earlier in Part 1. She’d recognized that with this team of five decision-makers, getting the go-ahead for a full-scale transformation project was going to be challenging.

She could convince Elaine and Phil by appealing to their enthusiasm for driving improvements in the business as they are Mobilizers. Jim, a Talker, could equally be won over by appealing to his self-interest by giving him a starring role in putting together the Tap Dogs program, allowing him to take personal credit for it. Pete and Sara, the Blockers, would be more difficult.

Jane decided to approach Phil first, getting his support in pulling together the next level of detailed planning that would help build the case for Pete and Sara later. With Phil on board, the two were ready to tackle Elaine and win her support - and persuasive skills, followed by Jim.

Jane and Elaine then met informally with Pete and Sara, individually at first, then with the whole group to present a clearly defined business case that allayed the Blockers’ concerns and won support to get the Tap Dogs project funded and resourced.

Let's Recap!

  • For a digital transformation to succeed, you will need to win the support of the people within the organization.

  • The seven stakeholder types break down into three key groups: the Mobilizers, the Thinkers, and the Blockers. Your main focus should be on working with the Mobilizers to win over the more conservative Blockers.

  • Understand what you can and cannot give ground on when approaching the Blockers, be sure to compare the cost of doing nothing, to the benefits of your plan.

A key stage in winning support is developing a strong business case. This is what we'll cover in the next chapter.

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