The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

Whilst the stakeholder community for any project or program can be a very diverse group of people and organisations, there is a key sub-set that either require goods, services or other outputs from the project, or have to supply resources, services or support to the project. These ‘logistical’ relationships need careful management as they directly affect the project’s ability to achieve its defined goals.

Altruism and charitable actions are wonderful, but it is dangerous to base the success of your project on the assumption that all of your ‘logistical’ stakeholders are automatically going to be altruistic and generous. The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix™ described in this post provides a pragmatic framework to help craft communications and build relationships with the stakeholders that matter from a logistics management perspective, within the project’s overall stakeholder management framework.

Understanding your Stakeholder Community

Project communication takes time and effort, both of which are in limited supply. Therefore, most of your communication effort needs to be focused on stakeholders that are important to the success of your project. This requires answering two key questions about each stakeholder:
1. Who are the most important stakeholders at this point in time?
2. Why are they important?

Understanding who is important is fairly straightforward, based on an assessment of the stakeholder’s power and involvement in the project. The Stakeholder Circle® uses a combination of power, proximity and urgency to define the most impotent stakeholders. The amount of power held by a stakeholder and their degree of involvement with the work of the project (proximity) are fairly static. Urgency, defined as a combination of the value of the stakeholders ‘stake’ in the project and the degree of effort they are likely to use to protect that ‘stake’ changes significantly and can be influenced by the effectiveness of the project’s communications and the strength of the relationships between the project team and the stakeholder. (See more on prioritising stakeholders).

Whist this process is highly effective at defining who the most important stakeholders are ‘at this point in time’, from a logistics perspective there is a second important group that also needs attention. Care needs to be taken to ensure that lower priority stakeholders who have to provide the support and resources needed for the project’s work are not overlooked in the communication framework. Effective ‘preventative’ communication can keep this group of logistically important stakeholders happy and low on the priority listing, whereas failing to communicate effectively can lead to problems and the person rapidly moving up the prioritisation listing.

Using the Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

Once you know who is important either from a logistical or prioritisation perspective, you also need to understand why each of these stakeholders is important to define the type of relationship you need to develop and plan your communication accordingly.

The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix™ provides a useful framework to help in this part of your communication planning. The matrix has two primary dimensions:

  • Each stakeholder will either need something from the project to further their interests or alternatively need nothing from the project.
  • Similarly the project either needs the active support of the important stakeholders, usually in the form of assistance or resources; or alternatively requires nothing from the stakeholder.

Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

The result is four quadrants that provide a framework for communication and within the framework each stakeholder will also be either supportive or negative towards the project (for more on supportiveness see the SHC Engagement Matrix).

All high priority stakeholders need to be considered plus any low priority stakeholders that have to supply goods, services or support to the project.

  • Project needs nothing / stakeholder needs nothing: Important stakeholders in this quadrant are almost invariably ‘protestors’ or ‘objectors’ attempting to block or change the project. Occasionally very powerful and interested stakeholders have no requirements of the project.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: Keep informed and engaged.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: There are two communication options:
      – You may be able to defuse the ‘protests’ by providing better information, but this only works if the protest is based on false assumptions.
      – The alternative is to choose not to communicate with the stakeholder beyond some necessary minimum.
      – The only other alternative is to change the project to remove the cause of objection but this is rarely within the authority of the project team.
  • Project needs nothing / stakeholder needs something: These stakeholders are the easiest to manage from a logistical perspective; providing their requirements are part of the projects deliverables. If their requirements are outside of the project’s scope the stakeholder needs to initiate a change request.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: All that is needed is regular reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Provide information to clearly demonstrate your deliverables to them will be beneficial and are aligned with their core interests. These stakeholders are typically an organisational change management challenge.
  • Project needs something / stakeholder needs something: This group needs active management. Project communication needs to clearly link the provision of the required support or resources by the stakeholder to the project being able to fulfil the stakeholder’s requirements. Time needs to be spent developing robust relationships to facilitate an effective partnership that supports both parties interest.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: A strong relationship is important to ensure a good understanding of both parties’ requirements. Including clearly defined information on what you need from them and when it’s required, linked to reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Significant effort is required to change the dynamic of the relationship. You need their support and they need to understand that this is in their best interest if their needs are going to be fulfilled.
    • Approach for low priority stakeholders: All that is usually needed is clearly defined information on what you need from them and when it’s required, linked to reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
  • Project needs something / stakeholder needs nothing: This group are your major risk; it typically consists of regulatory authorities and others who have to inspect or approve the project’s work as part of their normal business. Care is needed to build a proper ‘professional’ relationship that respects the integrity of the stakeholder’s position whilst at the same time ensuring your communications are received and acted upon.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: A good relationship is helpful; however, the key requirement is clearly defined information on what you need from them, when it’s required and why their input is important to the project.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Significant effort is required to change the dynamic of the relationship. They are important to you, but you are not important to them and have very little to ‘trade’. To change their attitude, you need to understand the source of the negativity and use any available option to build rapport either directly or through other supportive managers, or by appealing to some greater good.
    • Approach for low priority stakeholders: Ensure clearly defined information on what you need from them, when it’s required and why their input is important to the project is provided in adequate time to allow the stakeholder to do its work.

Once you understand the mutuality matrix, the way you communicate with each of the important stakeholders can be adjusted to ensure both parties in the communication achieve a satisfactory outcome.

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