Careful, comprehensive stakeholder mapping with in-depth analysis is obviously an essential planning basis for implementing reorganizations. The identification of stakeholder groups has a direct influence on both communication processes and the content of proactive and reactive communications. Only by knowing your stakeholder groups can you plan, design, and implement communications appropriately in terms of both content and timing – and thereby retain communication leadership in the reorganization process.

Obvious, but Often Not Put into Practice Consistently

Our practical experience tells us that many companies do not pay the necessary attention to this point. Be it a reorganization or a restructuring, the responsible project team is generally working to a tight schedule and is under considerable pressure to succeed. The focus is primarily on immediate decisions and – in extreme cases – on measures to secure the company’s continued existence.

Time and time again, however, carefully prepared, broad-based stakeholder mapping with appropriate analysis proves to be extremely valuable. Understandably, the focus is more on the groups that are directly relevant to the company than on those that have a more or less close or regular relationship to it. While the first group consists, among other things, of the company’s employees, senior management, and shareholders, the second group includes municipal and cantonal authorities, clients, and social partners.

An Example from Practice: of Humans and Animals

A good way to show what this means is to give an example from practice. In this specific instance, a company operating in Switzerland was going to close one of its sites, site A. Some of the staff at site A were to be transferred to site B (also in Switzerland). The majority of employees at site A were likely to be made redundant. As a special feature of this case, a number of animals would also be affected by the closure of site A.

The proactive initial communication was aimed at the primary stakeholder groups, with its main objective being to explain the decision to close site A and outline the next steps in the process. A conscious decision was taken not to address the fate of the affected animals in detail in the proactive external communication: while some animals were to find a new home at other sites of the company, the majority of them were threatened with slaughter.

The reactions of the various stakeholders immediately after the initial communication regarding the reorganization focused as expected on the closure of site A and the affected employees. However, various animal welfare organizations managed within a short space of time to shift media interest onto the fate of the animals. By this point, the future of the affected employees played only a subordinate role in the public perception. With targeted, effective publicity campaigns (such as demonstrations outside site A), animal welfare organizations ensured that the matter remained in the media’s focus at a low level for weeks.

Since public interest had shifted to the welfare of the affected animals, the reactive communications also concentrated on this issue. On the basis of our comprehensive stakeholder mapping and in-depth stakeholder analysis, we had drawn up suitable language regulations, thematic platforms, and Q&As, and sketched a variety of scenarios and possible courses of action. Using this as a foundation, the client was then able to adapt to the changed situation quickly. The transparent and open communications vis-à-vis the public and the client’s cooperation with individual animal welfare organizations had a de-escalating effect, with the result that the issue disappeared from the view of the involved organizations and the media in the medium term.

Procedure for Stakeholder Mapping

The following procedure with its (nonexhaustive) list of questions is intended to serve as a guide.

  • Identify the stakeholders: The starting point is the identification of the individual stakeholders. It has to be clarified and determined who will be directly and indirectly impacted by the reorganization, whose interests it will or could affect, and who will be compelled to change their behavior as a result. If in doubt, it is advisable to keep the group of stakeholders too broad rather than too narrow.
  • Cluster the stakeholders: The next step is to cluster the stakeholders by groups according to the following questions: Are the stakeholders internal or external? How greatly will the individual stakeholders be affected by the reorganization? Which interests are the individual stakeholders pursuing? Which issues are the individual stakeholders interested in? The context in which the reorganization is being implemented will determine which question is prioritized. The clustering makes it easier to handle the stakeholders.
  • Develop scenarios and possible courses of action: An assessment must be made of the extent to which the defined stakeholder clusters can influence, accelerate, or obstruct the reorganization. (Probable) scenarios can then be derived from this for which possible courses of action can be defined or at least considered. The goal is not to have ready-made solutions for every eventuality but to think about and prepare for eventualities in order to be able to act quickly and resolutely should the need arise.
  • Define the content of communications: Strictly speaking, this point is no longer part of the stakeholder mapping process, but it is a logical consequence of the preceding points. The specific content of the communications must be defined on the basis of the questions about what the stakeholder clusters have to/want to/should know.

Conclusion

Comprehensive stakeholder mapping can be used not only to manage the communication process and define the content of the communications but also to draw up scenarios with corresponding courses of action. It is worth investing sufficient resources in this groundwork.

If you have any questions or points you would like to raise about stakeholder mapping, please do not hesitate to contact me at jaeggi@farner.ch