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Manage your stakeholders like a pro with a power/interest grid

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

December 03, 2021

A power/interest grid is a useful tool for assessing how different people contribute to your projects’ success (or failure). Do you understand all of your stakeholders? Are you communicating with them effectively?  Do you even know who they are?

If you answered ‘umm’ to one or more of these questions, this article is for you.

Stakeholders have diverse interests and communication styles. Working with them isn’t always easy, especially if you don’t know how to prioritize their roles.

A power/interest grid can help you recognize each stakeholder’s level of influence and the benefits they gain from your actions. The information you gather in your grid will strengthen your communication strategy and allow you to work more efficiently with each person. So, it’s well worth your time.

What is a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is anyone with a vested interest in your business or project.

Stakeholders are not just limited to people. They can include organizations, groups of people, even the environment.

Why do stakeholders exist?

Stakeholders are involved in what you’re doing because it relates to their interests. For example, they may have written the policies your organization adheres to. Or, they may want something from you, such as money, resources, or manpower, in return for supporting your goals.

Stakeholders can also protect what matters to them by blocking proposals and initiatives. But they aren’t involved just to make your life harder.

Stakeholders often provide funding, support, and direction — three things you need for a successful project. As a result, learning to balance these relationships is necessary to keep your projects moving along.

Why is stakeholder management critical?

Stakeholder management is about building relationships with people who are essential to your organization. Even when your interests overlap, stakeholders have a different perspective from yours. You can’t risk ignoring their interests or letting projects become stalled by disagreements. When opposing views come up, you’ll be better at managing conflict if you understand what motivates someone.

How do I identify stakeholders?

We’ve already written an article on how to recognize stakeholders, but here’s a quick recap.

Stakeholders can be anyone in the community that has a connection to your organization. Peers or colleagues inside the organization. Corporate partners. Investors. Government agencies. Clients or customers. Individual members of the local community.

Above all, stakeholders are interested in your work because it affects them personally, professionally, financially, or environmentally.

Look at your list of potential stakeholders, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they have a direct or indirect role in the work I’m doing?
  • Do they have the power to influence the outcome of my project?
  • Will my organization’s actions affect them?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, you’ve identified a stakeholder. Once you have a complete list, it’s time to start making your grid.

What is a power/interest grid?

So, how does a power/interest grid work? In a power/interest grid, stakeholders with similar amounts of power and influence are in closer contact. Those with differing levels of power and influence have fewer interactions.

Charting the relationship between different stakeholders is the best way to spot potential sources of disagreement. The grid helps you understand the relative interests of each stakeholder so that you can respond appropriately to conflicting goals.

How to create a power/interest grid

First, list out stakeholders from your project. This list should be as comprehensive as possible and include all recipients of the product or service you’re providing. One way to sort the list is by organizational role (formal organizations, informal organizations, experts).

Next, create a square grid and label the x-axis as “Interest in Project.” The left and right sides represent low and high interest, respectively. Label the y-axis for “Level of Power.” From top to bottom, the y-axis represents high and low power.

power/interest grid
Power/interest grid created in Cacoo
  • People with high power but low interest must be kept happy. However, they won’t be as concerned about the details of your project.
  • High-power, high-interest groups are influential and want to stay informed.
  • People with low power but high interest have little say in the outcome of your project. But because they’re deeply invested, you should carefully address their concerns.
  • Low-power, low-interest groups are the most hands-off. You should monitor this group without overwhelming them with too much information.

Now, place dots in the grid to represent how much each stakeholder cares about your project versus the amount of influence they hold.

To do this, ask yourself the following questions: What do they want? What do they need? What motivates them? What are their interests?

Let’s look at each element in more detail…

Wants

Different stakeholders have different wants. Some want to increase sales or reduce costs for their company. Others want to positively impact society, protect the environment, or save lives. It all depends on the stakeholder’s role in a business or industry.

Needs

Stakeholders’ needs could be very practical. They’ll need drawings if you’re creating a product, technical specifications if you’re engineering something, or codes of conduct if you’re initiating a social change.

Motivations

Stakeholders are motivated by different things. As shareholders, their motivation comes from the desire to increase profits for their company. Other stakeholders have altruistic motivations to improve lives, cure diseases, etc. If a stakeholder is your boss, they might be focused on performance metrics. Basically, their reasons will vary depending on how they fit into an organization or industry.

Interests

Try to pinpoint what a stakeholder cares about most. If the individual is a boss or colleague, they may care about bonuses or job security. Clients often care about the aesthetic or functionality of a product. Others have a vested interest in the business succeeding. Are they focused on the bottom line? Do they own part of the company? Do they have to answer to shareholders?

Knowing what stakeholders want makes it easier to communicate with them successfully. You’ll get better results if you frame your requests to suit each stakeholder’s perspective.

In some cases, you can be direct and ask the stakeholders about their needs and interests. But it’s up to you to do some research in situations where stakeholders are less open about their goals.

Plot your grid on a diagramming tool once you work out where each stakeholder belongs. Then, draw lines linking stakeholders with similar profiles to clean up inconsistencies. Once everyone is appropriately connected, add arrows showing who influences whom.

Top tip: Use a SWOT diagram to help you analyze how different individuals feed into your project’s strengths and weaknesses or pose opportunities and threats.

Split your groups further for a more detailed approach

Not every grid will have an even distribution across different groups. In many cases, stakeholders fall into three broad categories: active supporters with little influence; passive supporters with moderate input; and opponents who actively hinder progress.

Also, a power/interest grid doesn’t have to stay the same. Supporters and opponents may change roles or have varying levels of influence at different points in the project. Update your grid throughout the process to ensure you’re focusing your energy in the right places.

Share your grid with everyone (stakeholders too)

Share your completed diagram with relevant parties. Ideally, you’ll use your project management software for this. Imagine the convenience of sharing diagrams with entire teams instead of dealing with dozens of emails and status updates. You can make real-time changes while keeping everyone on the same page.

For instance, you may need to bring in new stakeholders if your project changes or runs into trouble. In that case, simply expand your grid to include them.

Final thoughts

Always maintain a flexible mindset when planning. Projects evolve, and you have to be willing to adapt quickly. After all, more significant projects come with higher stakes and more stakeholders to manage. If you know how to analyze your stakeholders in depth, you’ll be a pro at conducting successful projects in the future.

Keeping everyone on the same page is a must, and project management software can help you do this.

With our Cacoo diagramming tool, you can track project tasks, get instant access to all resources, and send out notifications in real-time. Projects are easy to monitor as they develop, and you can establish accountability across your whole team.

PM software allows you to manage different groups of stakeholders with less admin.

If you invite high-interest parties to view documents and progress reports, they can check in as often as they like without having to request data. That means fewer emails in your inbox and happier, more empowered stakeholders.

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