It is well known that adequately managing the input of your stakeholders is crucial to the success of any project. But, what do you do when the demands of your external stakeholders compete with the needs of the internal?

Because external stakeholders play such a significant role in a company, their needs are treated as primary. This makes it easy for executives to forget that employees, who are primarily affected by business decisions, hold an equal amount of importance.

When things get tough, it is often difficult to decide which stakeholders to put first — employees, or shareholders.

Conflict arises when the needs between these groups begin to differ. Your shareholders definitely have a large stake, being the ones to provide a sizable amount of the capital necessary to fund the business.

On the other hand, your employees and their standard of work affect how the organization operates. Keeping them happy and motivated is crucial to the reputation and livelihood of your business.

So what is the best plan of action?

Finding the appropriate balance, while difficult, is key. Here are a few ways to best approach and resolves this impasse.

Define need vs. want

When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, conflict is not too far off on the horizon.

Regulations and processes are debated. Revenues and profits begin to take precedence over customer service and employee conditions — chaos ensues.

Everyone wants things done their way, with no regard to how it may affect the other party. If left this way, the internal disputes will eventually tear your organization apart.

Settling on an order of priority, while done by many companies, does not always resolve these situations.

One must realize that real issues arise when needs battle with wants.

Everything that your stakeholders will be battling for may not always be necessary, or for the betterment of the organization.

It is up to executives to determine what demands are actual requirements and which stakeholders must stand down.

There are numerous ways to collect stakeholder needs. A few ideas include:

  • Brainstorming workshops
  • Interviews and forums
  • Strategy meetings and reviews

cycle of stakeholder needs
(Cycle of Needs (Faisandier 2012). Presents the cycle of needs and the position of stakeholder requirements.)

Identifying real vs. perceived needs allows you to recognize what demands qualify as requirements, and which are low on the list of priorities.

Be transparent

Nothing is more frustrating than feeling left in the dark. Keeping secrets is bad in your personal life and even more detrimental when it comes to your business.

Your stakeholders rely on you to keep them abreast of the true happenings in the organization. How else are they supposed to address and resolve issues?

The damage escalates when management chooses to reveal information only to specific groups. Concealing a severe setback from your shareholders becomes even worse when your employees aren’t equally uninformed. This deceit is what creates the disconnect between your stakeholders and accelerates unneeded conflict.

Don’t let issues of security or apprehension undermine trust. To facilitate collaboration between all of your stakeholders, transparency, to ALL parties, should be absolute.

Without honest communication, it is impossible for stakeholders to understand and respect one another’s priorities, constraints, and reasonings.

Giving everyone a more in-depth look into each other’s motivations can effectively dispel potential skirmishes and opinion clashes.

Open up a dialogue

When it comes to building trust, communication is the best first step, but only if it is clear, open and most of all–frequent.

Because your stakeholders have invested so much into your organizational goals, they, unfortunately, have a lot to lose if you fail. This concern for success is what causes such debate between your stakeholder.

Each of them thinks they know what is best for the organization. And in many cases, both your shareholders and employees will have valuable information to share. But, the only way to see the big picture in its entirety is to not focus on selfish needs.

Instead, develop an open dialogue. One in which all invested parties can share, brainstorm and ideate on the next best steps to take in the future of your organization.

Because your stakeholders expect to the be first ones to hear news and the last say in any next steps you may decide to take, ranking who comes first is challenging. With too many voices in the mix, the potential for set decisions becomes less, and the conflicts increase.

Opening up the communication floodgates allows your stakeholders to not only receive critical updates from you, but also from each other.

digital collaboration

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The explosion of social tools, digital apps, and mobile devices have made constant communication more of an expectation than a want. Luckily, digital tools, such as an intranet, can also act as a solution in this instance.

Make use of the following communication best practices:

  • Face to face comms: making a personal connection lowers the feelings of hostility and can be best for overcoming any hesitation or resistance to change
  • Meetings: getting your stakeholders, or their representative, together for an in-person meeting is useful in expressing more complicated ideas or receiving input from all parties.
  • Video: very effective for storytelling. A short video will often appeal to those who use visual senses to paint a picture of the existing message or issue.
  • Forums: builds a culture of collaboration that may not already exist in your dispersed stakeholders.

With proper communication, you can attack the small problems long before they become big issues. Establishing an open and communicative relationship between stakeholders will lend a hand in encouraging a more cooperative nature and ultimately lessen the instances of conflict.

Defer to your IC strategy

The above methods, while helpful, are not foolproof. Conflicts among stakeholders have the potential to defy reason. When all else fails, it is time to defer to your internal comms strategy.

If you did your due diligence during the development process, then your comms plan should be rife with opinions and considerations gathered from your stakeholders in the beginning.

Meaning they’ve already chosen and approved decisions on what your communications goals are, what channels and tactics you’ll use, how you’ve decided to communicate to your audience, and your communications strategies.

communications plan

An unhappy stakeholder is a liability. Shareholders might decide not to support your project or employees may underperform when you need them most. Resolve competing stakeholder requirements by prioritizing the demand that most closely match the aspects of your pre-determined internal comms plan.

Your plan should:

  • Provide a roadmap for consistent communication strategy with all stakeholders
  • Define how these IC strategies will be measured, demonstrated and implemented.
  • Set proper guidelines for your IC team
  • Define what efforts can best deliver on essential business needs

Therefore, what better method to settle a dispute than to turn to the very comms plan that they agreed would be best for the whole of the organization

Having these parameters set and mapping the current situation with your stakeholders in advance can discourage even the worst of disagreements in the future.

Stakeholders and resolving conflicts

Unsurprisingly, the dynamics of your internal and external stakeholder relationships act as a solid barrier to success and ultimately lead to dissatisfaction on both ends of the spectrum.

Minimize conflict between your stakeholders through clearly devised strategies and staying committed to your corporate values when deciding who to but put first.

Through open, honest and frequent stakeholder dialogue and balancing the needs of different, yet valuable members, your organization can continue to grow and move toward success.