How to create, map and keep stakeholder relationships

Having the ear of a senior leader can transform the way you work. If they view you as a trusted adviser, it can create endless opportunities for you to excel in your role and deliver business success.

Today I’ll show you how to map your stakeholders to get you nearer that position.

Building and maintaining credible relationships is vital if you want to move from a tactical to strategic comms pro.

If I asked your CEO what they think of you, what would they say? How do they view you?

This is an important topic for professional communicators to get to grips with. It’s a fascinating discussion at my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass, where I challenge senior-level communicators to examine how good their business relationships are. And why it matters.

Want to have the same discussion? There are spaces on my upcoming Masterclasses on 23 March and 25 May 2017 in London.

This isn’t just theoretical. I’ve asked client’s CEOs what they think of their comms lead, and then told them.

I’m used to having difficult conversations, it’s what I’m regularly hired to do!

Only last week I was sharing my stakeholder map with a client to help her think through who she needs to work with in her organisation. I’ve included it at the end of this article.

Today I’m delighted to welcome back Lou Robinson, Global Internal Comms lead at Costa. She’s here to share her experiences.

Lou took part in my A Question of Comms feature a few weeks back and shared her advice for people looking to work in comms, revealed her favourite book and what she couldn’t do her role without.

I’ll hand you over to her…

How to create and keep top stakeholder relationships

In my first guest blog ‘Things I wish I’d known…’ in December, I talked about stakeholder management as the number one thing I had to spend a lot more time on than I expected.

Rachel mentioned that people on her All Things IC Masterclasses often ask:

how do you create and sustain a great stakeholder relationship with a senior person?

It shouldn’t be that difficult should it?

In theory ‘no’, but you can’t control how other people react, you can only control yourself and your preparation for stakeholder meetings.

Let’s imagine you’re about to start a new permanent role and embarking on your first 90 days in the job. Interims – sorry you only have 90 hours to do the same thing!

Here are some tips to help you get up and running in your honeymoon period – there’s so much to take in and it can be easy to lose focus – don’t sleepwalk into day 91 without a plan!

Be visible…

Someone will have set you up an induction chat with your senior stakeholder. Have your questions ready (written down in your book so you don’t forget them) and show you are not just communications focused but also business focused:

  1. What are their priorities this year?
  2. How is communications supporting the delivery of the business objectives and outcomes? How is that going?
  3. What do they think about the communications function?
  4. What’s going well?
  5. What needs improvement?

And my killer question:

If you could do one thing differently this year, what would it be?

That always give people pause for thought…

Situational analysis…

If you’ve done the CIPR Diploma then you’ll know about creating a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) early on. You can use this tool to help your stakeholder understand the current ‘state of the nation’ for internal comms.

The questions above are designed to help you start the situational analysis. I usually commit that I’ll be back with my SWOT in hand within the first x weeks, and from there we’ll discuss the IC plan and priorities in more detail once I know what my baseline is.

A word of warning about ‘Weaknesses’ – be careful how you message this section as you don’t want to upset people by being seen to criticise the status quo in an insensitive manner…

Know your enemies…and your friends

During your induction you’ll speak to a wide range of people. Take note of what people say and if it’s safe to do so and you trust the person, ask about who the more tricky, challenging stakeholders are and why that is.

Almost everyone I’ve worked with has a predictable set of behaviours and once you’ve worked out what they are, you can plan to deal with them when you next meet up.

You won’t know what they are immediately. Take note of how people respond to questions and answers and how they challenge you – are they very detailed? Do they only like to talk about the big picture? Is there a certain topic that triggers a frustration?

Useful as other people’s views are, you will need to trust your instinct and form your own opinion about how to deal with people – my first instincts almost always turn out to be correct in the long run!

Plan and commit

Once your inductions are completed, ensure you have a plan for the second meeting with your senior stakeholder. This meeting will be about getting some work done! Take some time the day before to work out your plan and make notes.

It’s quite likely that you won’t fully understand how everything works in your organisation at this point (all the stuff that is hidden below the surface of the iceberg).

If your SWOT is ready, take it back in and use it as a starting point to then talk about what you’re going to do to support the business outcomes and priorities.

Doing fewer things better and getting some quick wins under your belt to establish your credibility is vital. Aim to contract around 2-3 tactical priorities that you’ll deliver and measure the outcomes of.

By the end of this period you want to have:

  1. Established yourself as someone who can be trusted and
  2. Shown that you can deliver results quickly.

Commit to being back in for a quarterly review of how things are going at the end of your first 90 days, and off you go!

In part two of this blog I’ll talk about how to sustain a senior level relationship beyond the honeymoon period.

Post author: Lou Robinson.

Thank you Lou.

I hope you have a great week,


Sign up to learn more about internal communication with an All Things IC Masterclass

Further advice via All Things IC: Podcast: How to say no to stakeholders

How to say no to stakeholders

Post author: Rachel Miller @AllthingsIC.

First published on the All Things IC blog 20 February 2017. Updated 2023.


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