If I had a dollar for every time I saw a community bring together a group of “stakeholders” I’d be comfortably retired and if I had a second dollar for every stakeholder process that ended without an action, I’d be on one of Fortune Magazine’s money lists.
Now before you finishing lighting your torch and locating your pitchfork, let me explain.
Good Intentions Don’t Spark Action
The intent behind stakeholder committees/groups is very laudable: involve the public in a process, educate them on a challenge or opportunity, record their input and diffuse potential objections.
But most stakeholder processes today are generally failures. They are poorly attended, poorly managed and orchestrated to be very limited in scope. Stakeholders are usually limited to a position of review and respond – completely missing the opportunity to re-imagine processes and plans, rewrite strategies and goals, and resolve to take real actions.
This is why even out of the best plan or idea. . .stakeholders fade away and big ideas never materialize into results.
The Wrong Audience
I have come to believe that stakeholders may be the wrong audience. Unlike investors or shareholders, they typically are not personally vested in an outcome. Instead, by definition, a stakeholder is someone with an interest or concern in something.
This is the problem. Having an interest or a concern doesn’t often merit action. I’m interested in history. I like to read about it, I like to watch programs about it. I’ll even occasionally reference it. But, my interest alone doesn’t compel me to take action. For example, I am fascinated by presidential biographies, but at age 40 I just visited my first one and it is only an hour drive away from where I live.
A stakeholder is no different. They are curious, they may have a question about the topic and they may want to offer an opinion. But they generally have no desire to be responsible for the outcome.
A New Concept for Results: Coalitions
I believe it’s time to gather fewer stakeholders and instead build more coalitions. It’s time to move away from asking people to serve in an “advisory” capacity and ask them at the outset to serve in an “achievement” role. And even more importantly, put them in a role where their recommendations carry some actual weight in not only creating the plan, but initiating the action.
My only worry is that the term coalitions too often creates a negative reaction or visual depiction of being either “activism” or “political action” or, in rare cases, “extremism.”
However, we need to remember that real coalitions are far from this perception. A coalition is simply individuals or groups that, in their own self-interest, cooperate in joint action. The keywords in that sentence being “cooperate” and “action.”
What do you think?