The Case for Stakeholder Mapping

The Case for Stakeholder Mapping

Meaningful stakeholder identification is a critical part of an organization’s planning process. Unfortunately, this step is often overlooked, minimized, skimmed over, or disregarded entirely. Why? Many organizations (and leaders) define their stakeholders far too narrowly when they should instead think about stakeholders deeply, broadly, and theoretically.

The ramifications of inadequate stakeholder mapping are not immediately apparent. Yet they are quite severe. Inadequate mapping impacts everything from how an organization develops and deploys its core values to its strategy and tactics.

A wide variety of techniques exist to conduct stakeholder mapping and identification. One of the easiest to utilize begins with categorizing your stakeholders.

A Stakeholder Mapping Template

Think about your organization’s stakeholders and place each of them into one of the three top-level categories shown in the chart below.

The categories begin with stakeholders within your organization and grow more removed from your organization in time and space as we proceed from left to right.

Three Categories of Stakeholders

Known Stakeholders

Known stakeholders are people currently within your organization who play an important role. They are likely part of your leadership team and charged with overseeing individual business units or departments. Listing individuals instead of divisions/entities/departments is critical here as the players and their personalities matter.

Adjacent Stakeholders

Adjacent stakeholders are people and entities connected to your organization yet slightly removed. Think of them as first- and second-degree connections that are not directly employed by your organization. This category is likely populated with organizations and people like inspectors, government regulators, third-party verifiers, financial institutions, and others. (Pro tip: Do not list vendors, suppliers, or customers within this category. Instead, create a separate list of Known, Adjacent, and Future/Potential stakeholders using a category labeled “Allies” or “Partners.”)

Future Stakeholders (a.k.a. Potential Stakeholders)

Future Stakeholders are people and entities that have at least a medium probability of being associated with your organization in the future. Here are a few thought-starter questions to use when fleshing out this category:

  • What new start-ups have a material, product, or service that might impact our organization?
  • Who will our employees be in five to ten years? (Generational differences matter.)
  • What new technologies have we read about in trade publications that are not yet ready for prime time but might be in the future?

Other Stakeholder Categories

As you begin to populate your stakeholder list, you may find it beneficial to create additional rows of stakeholders. For example, my “Pro Tip” above suggests creating a separate row of “Allies” or “Partners.” Depending on the complexity and reach of your organization, you may want to flesh out individual rows for customers as well as suppliers. To do this, simply replicate the above graphic and replace “Your Organization(s)” with the appropriate label such as “Clients” or “Suppliers.” This is where the artistry of stakeholder mapping comes into play as no two organizations have identical stakeholder maps.

Stakeholder Mapping Best Practices

The best stakeholder mapping occurs when an external facilitator is brought in to drive the process. However, if you’re looking to go the “DIY route,” the framework I’ve shared will at least get you started and help you to avoid unintentionally limiting your pool of stakeholders.

Got a question about stakeholder mapping? Drop me a line and let’s talk about the people and organizations in your universe. It’s likely there are more than you ever dreamed.


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