How Many Masters Can You Serve?

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.”   You’ve probably come across some version of this Bible verse in your travels. You may have studied it in a religious context, but it can also be easily applied to stakeholder management.  Often the second master discussed is money, material goods, addiction or just bad  behavior.  The challenge for those of us in the business world with multiple masters (stakeholders), is who to focus on.  Who gets the majority of our time!

The list of your stakeholders can be pretty long. It can include teammates, employees, bosses, clients, customers, suppliers, and regulators – basically, any of the many parties who impact or who are impacted by your project or change initiative.

The better you communicate with your stakeholders, the stronger your relationships with them are likely to be. And that helps you know more about how to deliver desired results to them — and strengthens the relationships even more. It’s a kind of virtuous cycle.

In The Trusted Advisor, David Maister offers a way to assess our relationships with stakeholders. Maister’s focus is the crucial consultant-client relationship in professional services firms, but the approach is universal and can be applied more broadly to other stakeholder relationships, other types of companies, and even other industries.

Because relationship building is so important to a leader’s influence, leaders must understand the benefits of relationships and how to evolve and maintain them — with trust as the foundation.  But know this now: whatever level of trust you’ve achieved in your relationships with stakeholders, you always have to do your best to identify and address stakeholder’s individual needs for information. To scope out multiple stakeholders’ needs, conduct a stakeholder analysis.

Start with yourself, as the leader, and then come up with a list of your primary stakeholders. If you’re a project manager and you’ve determined that your stakeholders are your partners, the leadership team at your company, your customers, employees, and the vendor. (Whether you’re leading a project, a team or a company, the process is the same.) Next, you must think about what each of them needs from you in the way of data, assurances of success, and so on. Finally, you need to decide the best method (timing, channel, etc.) for delivering the information to them.

Notice that you do not deliver the same set of information in the same way to all stakeholders. Employees may need frequent direction and reminders via multiple channels, while the bank is fine with a single monthly or quarterly report. You must tailor communications to each stakeholder’s needs.

Remember, “No one can serve two masters”, but a solid communications plan will help you effectively deal with multiple stakeholders.

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