A three-step exercise to get behind your stakeholders’ drivers

27 November 2020

Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro offers a simple step-by-step method of understanding what makes your stakeholders tick. 


The global hit sitcom Yes Minister has recently done the rounds on social media to illustrate Britain’s convoluted relationship with the European project. Little did its authors know that forty years on (and almost two generations later), those deliciously scripted dialogues between civil servants and their ministers would be truly well and alive, a form of light relief to season the widespread puzzlement felt over Brexit negotiations.

In one famous scene permanent secretary Sir Humphrey relishes in explaining to Minister James Hacker how the Foreign Office is invested in being at the heart of European negotiations precisely to ensure that none of those actually work. Satire is one of the greatest forms of social observation, and Sir Humphrey a brilliant case-study on how not to engage with your stakeholders.

Universities are purpose-driven organisations and planets apart from the fictional politics depicted in Yes Minister. But like in any other large organisation, it’s all too easy for universities and business schools to lose sight of those hopes and fears which drive their stakeholders’ agendas, and zoom in instead on the granular detail of their day-to-day operations.

We often work on marketing and communications strategies with our clients, supporting them in developing the positioning and profile of their brands, boost recruitment targets, refine alumni engagement and web journeys. And we know the challenges that lie in getting management to invest in new strategies.

Which is why getting your team, peers or senior leaders to step into the shoes of a particular stakeholder can be a really valuable mind-opening exercise - and here’s how to go about it:

Step 1 | Sensing: recalling a moment that stayed with you

Invite your colleagues to take 10 minutes to write about a moment, an interaction, a story or a piece of feedback that really made them understand how a member of faculty, student, corporate or alumn was feeling. Stress that you’re looking for something that is moving, inspiring or exciting. Invite them to read out their story. In our busy world of work we don’t often get time to think and reflect which is why this can be a really transformative exercise in unlocking the meaning behind colleagues’ roles.

Set 2 | Get behind someone’s hopes and fears

Now that your colleagues have shifted from an operational view of their work to the positive outcomes they can generate in others, get them to exercise and list some of the fears and hopes that inform the way in which students, faculty, partners or alumni go about their day-to-day business. What is an undergraduate hoping for at the end of his/her degree? What sort of things worry an early career fellow? Encourage people to list as many hopes and fears as they can think of for any of the particular groups.

Step 3 | Give your stakeholders a voice

By this stage people have built greater awareness of what goes on in the minds of stakeholder groups. The next step is to build a fictional persona – make them real by giving them a name and an age. Find a picture for your fictional stakeholder. Armed with the knowledge of their hopes and fears invite your colleagues to put together some thoughts and questions that run through the minds of those personas on a regular basis.

Once you’ve gone through this practice, you’ll have a body of work you can refer to again and again and who knows... Your School might just find a renewed focus when shaping new activities.


Photo by Lukas from Pexels.





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