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Paul Rogers’ field guide to stakeholders: Part two

Dollars And Sense

There are many frameworks to help classify stakeholders, and if all stakeholders behaved perfectly, those tools and methodologies would be…perfect! But stakeholders are human just like you and me, each with their own foibles and peccadillos.

Thankfully, Paul Rogers is practically perfect in every way and has prepared this two-part field guide to help you identify and deal with different types of stakeholders.

This is part two, dealing with stakeholder archetypes 7 to 12.

The Fatal Flaw


The Fatal Flaw


How to recognise them

The ‘Fatal Flaw’ stakeholder is somebody who evaluates a plan (or another person) and focuses disproportionately on what they believe is a ‘fatal’ flaw. 

Instead of balancing positive and negative traits, they feel good about themselves by pointing out something negative, which they magnify beyond its actual significance.

Why it matters

The human condition is that we are all fallible. There has never been a perfect plan and there never will be. The identification of a ‘fatal flaw’ has little to do with the merit of what is being criticised, and more to do with the ego needs of the critic. 

Lionel Messi (widely regarded as the best soccer player currently playing the sport) is variously listed as either 169 or 170cm tall. Imagine a coach became fixated on his height and said, “He’ll never make it, he’s too short!” 

We have to balance positive and negative, and try to avoid devoting a disproportionate level of importance to something that may be offset by other factors.

What to do

There are two options; one is to engage with the substance of the alleged ‘fatal flaw’. This is unlikely to work, as it both rewards the critic with validation of their opinion and sets up an argument which cannot be won (since the other party’s opinion may not be rationally based).

A better approach might be to create a framework to scale the relative importance of all the dimensions relative to the evaluation.

If you are Machiavellian, you might create a long list, so as to minimise the impact of the alleged ‘fatal flaw’. Or you could use weighted factor analysis and assign a low weight to the problematic dimension. Another option is to meet the ego needs of the critic by appointing them a non-voting chair of the decision-making process. A win-win?

The No 2 Gunslinger In Town


The #2 Gunslinger in Town


How to recognise them

This stakeholder believes that their commercial plan is just a little bit better than your commercial plan. They are a frustrated negotiator, anxious to prove that they are #1.

Why it matters

It can be tempting to conceive of negotiations as a shoot-out, but it is only in the movies that the bad guys are poor shots. The unquestioning repetition of the ‘win-win’ mantra is just as dangerous as the predictable ‘10 percent off’ target.

Strategy needs to be context specific and there’s no room for Lone Rangers in a negotiation team.

What to do

One option is to ask the gunslinger to prepare a draft negotiation plan, specifically relating the plan to the relative bargaining power of the parties. That may expose any lack of understanding of the context, and any recurring and predictable use of ‘cookie-cutter’ tactics. In this way you can help build their capability in negotiation preparation.

Another option is to respect their alternative perspective and invite them to act as ‘Devil’s Advocate’, arguing against your proposed strategy. This flatters their ego, legitimises their self-appointed role and may act as a control on ‘group think’.

The Very Important Top Officer


The Very Important Top Officer (VITO)


How to recognise them

They would be a great asset to your project, if you could only engage with them. They may even be a champion, if you could raise their interest level. But they are very senior and have an army of gatekeepers and staff whose role in life is to keep VITO safe from people like you.

Why it matters

When you created your stakeholder map, theirs was one of the first names mentioned. They have power and influence over open doors that could make a difference to your project. Unfortunately, the door is closed to you or if it is open, they are never behind it. You may have prepared your elevator pitch and polished your WIIFM statements, but these approaches will only work when (and if) you can get in front of them.

What to do

In hierarchical organisations, the classic approach is to ask your boss to ask their boss, to try and broker a meeting with VITO. This may work, as long as the quality of the messaging is not diluted on each retelling. 

Another option is to ask your boss to arrange a meeting directly with VITO. This will certainly reveal to you the level of trust that your boss has in you!

It was Elon Musk who recommended “communicating directly”. You could ring VITO’s gatekeeper and plead your case. You could even try to engineer a ‘chance’ meeting with VITO in the corridor or in the car park. 

Bear in mind that you may not be the first to ambush VITO, and you may unwittingly convert VITO from ‘low interest’ to ‘opponent’.

Single Issue Champion


Single Issue Champion


How to recognise them

“I’m sorry, but…” 

What comes next is the assertion that an issue that they champion is disproportionately important. It may be that multiple issues are important. However, any nuance in prioritising complex issues is lost when “I’m sorry, but…” states that their issue should be the number one priority.

Why it matters

The reason why some business problems are complex is that there are multiple competing priorities to be considered. It is perfectly appropriate for single issue champions to advocate for their cause. “I hear what you are saying, BUT…” leaves little room to balance multiple issues.

What to do

There are various managerial tools to prioritise competing needs, such as MoSCoW or Kano Technique or ordinal ranking. But this isn’t really about tools to support small group consensus-reaching. It is about mindset (“I’m right and you’re wrong”) and behaviour. 

“I’m sorry, but…” digs a trench that may be hard to get out of without losing face. It may also alienate stakeholders who believe that other issues are just as important.

One preventive measure is to discuss Tuckman’s stages of team development, focusing upon symptoms and causes of the “storming” phase. You might ask the group to suggest some behaviours that help surface underlying issues and some behaviours that do not. Perhaps prime one team member to suggest “I’m sorry but…” as a discussion stopper rather than a conversation prompt? A little Machiavellian?

I’m sorry, but it might work as a last resort.

The Fox


The Fox


How to recognise them

This stakeholder presents as agnostic about suppliers but at key moments they reveal a preference for one supplier. The Fox may subtly undermine a company’s value propositions with a negative comment here and there. Fear, uncertainty and doubt. 

They may not be the first person to speak up for the preferred supplier but they will chime in with positive comments, perhaps even in collaboration with a trusted ally.

Why it matters

Business decision making should be fair, objective and transparent. Having a preference for one provider is not a crime, as long as it is declared and it does not inappropriately influence the decision making of others. Of course, there is a long history of conflicts of interest being, erm, somewhat more financial in nature.

What to do

One option is to ask each stakeholder to comment on their reading of the situation, inviting The Fox to contribute last. In this way, their opinion is least likely to affect that of others.

If the stakeholder is involved in decision making, another option is to ask all staff involved in decision making to declare any conflicts of interest. It may not work, but at least it sets expectations and may allow any declared preference to be managed.

Last Minute Charlie


Last Minute Charlie


How to recognise them

Last Minute Charlie claims that “there’s no time for a full procurement process” and adds that the circumstances that led to this were “unforeseen and unforeseeable!” Again. And of course they “already have a proposal which is acceptable”, which is dated two months ago. Or the supplier is “the only supplier who can do this work!”

Why it matters

Telescoping the procurement process can be a tactic to avoid or limit competition and to ensure a preferred supplier wins the work. This may affect the realisation of value and will undermine confidence in the integrity of the procurement process. 

Or it can be simple poor planning, caused by being busy or a reactive mindset. Some middle managers love a drama. It adds interest to their working life and they can savour some power and influence above their delegated authority and pay grade. You will know this if a pattern emerges.

What to do

One option is to ask Last Minute Charlie to finish the sentence “The reasons why the project was unforeseeable are…” The rationale to bypass normal procurement processes needs to be recorded.

A second option is to request that they complete forward procurement plans when budgets are released and when their major projects are being planned. For recidivist repeat offenders, it may be that we have a choice between ‘collars’ and ‘cuffs’. 

Collars are what clergy wear and this is the path of forgiveness. Develop a forward procurement plan for them and offer a ‘crisis support’ team to descend from above and help them with the procurement process.

Cuffs are carried by police officers. “No, there is no single quote this time, Charlie. Let your stakeholders know you are going to miss that deadline. Oh, and I’ve asked Internal Audit to look into this. See you later.”

Final thoughts


The overwhelming majority of stakeholders are well-meaning and willing to cooperate wherever possible. If our approach to stakeholders is based upon trying to work out where they are going wrong, it is unlikely we will be able to build many successful stakeholder relationships! 

However, it would be surprising if you haven’t recognised some traits in the archetypes presented in this article from your previous interactions with stakeholders.

The important thing is to avoid stereotyping stakeholders and instead recognising them for the complex human beings that they are. By understanding what makes them tick, it is more likely that we can engage with them in ways that are successful for them, and for us.

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