Who really cares about your business? Sometimes it might feel like you are the only person in the world who really cares about it. But that's not true and your business couldn't survive if nobody cared. In fact, people care so much about your business that it is actually they, and not you, who ensure continued prosperity. These people are called stakeholders because they hold a personal interest in the well-being of your company.

Anyone interested in the success of your company is a potential ally. Since they have an incentive to help you, it pays to know them well. Stakeholders usually fall into four groups: shareholders, customers, employees and suppliers. Each group has a different, selfish reason why they want you to be successful. Shareholders want a return on their investment, customers benefit from your products or services, employees earn income and suppliers want to sell you more. When you prosper, they prosper. Your stability and growth is their stability and growth. It is in their best interests to help you.

Your role as a business leader is to manage stakeholder relationships. Managing their expectations with regards to your business is key to mutually satisfactory relationships. Your strategic plan should address the needs and wants of each stakeholder group and develop strategies to fulfill them.

For those who read the strategic plan (perhaps your shareholders, leadership team and employees) you can use the plan to create or raise expectations that will motivate them. Employees reading the plan can't help but think, "What's in it for me? How do I fit in?" If they find it personally exciting, then you have more loyal, committed employees. Even those who never read the plan will still be motivated as you implement it. For example, if you've properly understood customers wants, they'll be saying, "That's exactly what I want!" when you announce new initiatives. That builds greater customer loyalty.

Managing stakeholder relationships starts with assessing your business through their eyes. What do they want from you? For example, your customer offering includes a broad range of factors from product/service specifications to warranty, customer service, price, delivery, relationship and training. Of these, which ones are really valued? Which played the greatest role in attracting your customers in the first place? Which is most important in keeping them? The objective is to find out what your customers value and then make sure you continue to provide that value.

Don't waste your time providing something they don't value. My local newspaper started delivering a big city Sunday paper a year ago as a free added benefit. They finally surveyed their readers a few months ago and found that less than 50% even bothered to look at it. Those who actually liked it were even fewer than that! What people really wanted was more local coverage. Needless to say, they cancelled the Sunday paper deal and beefed up local coverage and got rave reviews for doing so! Are you providing what your customers want and value?

Next, find out how they assess your business. You may think you are providing good service to them, but that's according to your assessment. Are your standards the same as theirs? Are they looking at the same things you are? How do they assess your past performance and predict your future performance? Whatever criteria they are using better be the same criteria you use to assess your own performance. If there are leading indicators they use to gauge future performance, you should be looking at the same indicators and proactively making sure they tell a good story!

The other side of the coin is what you expect to get from your stakeholders. Looking again at customers, for example, you likely want repeat business, referrals and new product ideas from them. Identifying what you want increases the chance you'll get it. Find ways to measure what you are getting from each stakeholder group. Assess their performance and find leading indicators for future performance.

For example, you might track order frequency or size of order. A variation from the norm would trigger some investigation. What's changing? Is there something you should know? Whether it is good or bad news for you, it's better that you know sooner rather than later.

Do the same analysis for all stakeholder groups. The more you give them what they want, the more they'll give you what you want. If there is a fair exchange of value on all sides, which is part of the analysis, then everyone profits. When shareholders, customers, employees and suppliers are all happy, you will prosper. Stakeholders are your allies. Use them!

Our stakeholder audit is at http://canlead.com/stakeholder_audit.htm

Author's Bio: 

Author, speaker and facilitator, Waterloo-based John Pellowe
helps corporations achieve their goals through organizational and people development. For a free catalogue of resources, or to book John to speak at your next meeting, email: mailto:info@canlead.com