Analysing stakeholders

While reading a piece of required reading to accompany Book 1 of B120, I came across an interesting model called the Stakeholder Power and Interest Matrix. I can’t reproduce the diagram here (but a Google Search reveals several versions), but I felt it was pretty useful in categorising stakeholders, of which (according to the model) there are four types.

Category A stakeholders are those that are low power and have a low level of interest, and therefore require minimal effort.

Category B stakeholders are those with a high level of interest and low power, and therefore have to be kept informed in order to avoid them repositioning themselves on the matrix by escalating any lack of involvement with Category B or Category A stakeholders.

Category C stakeholders are those with high power but a relatively low level of interest. These stakeholders need to be kept satisfied in order to avoid them escalating any dissatisfaction with Category D stakeholders.

Category D stakeholders are the ‘key players’ who have to be kept informed and satisfied. They have a high level of power and a high level of interest. If they are not given serious consideration, they have the power to block plans and implement their own agenda.

The trust building loop

The trust building loop is a concept centred around the idea that trust should be developed incrementally, with the successful outcome of each step serving to reinforce trust and underpin more ambitious collaboration. Through the accumulation of ‘small wins’ (Bryson, 1988), the trust building loops builds on itself over time.

However, it could be argued that the ‘small wins’ approach is overly-simplistic; while it may work with low-risk collaborations, or collaborations that are not heavily constrained by time, it may not be such an appropriate strategy in more ambitious collaborative contexts, or those that do not have the luxury of time in which to develop trust incrementally.

Some more features of collaborative contexts that impact on initiating the loop are:

  • ambiguity and complexity of the collaborative context
  • the difficulty in clarifying aims, expectations, and the collaborative agenda
  • managing risk while trust develops.

There are also several features of collaborative contexts that impact on sustaining the loop.

  • the constantly changing dynamics of collaboration
  • power imbalances within a collaborative context
  • the need for nurturing and continuous effort to sustain trust.

(Source: Huxham and Vangen, 2005).

Ten questions to ask before setting goals

  1. Are the goals too specific?
  2. Are the goals too challenging?
  3. Have the goals been agreed by those who will be expected to achieve them?
  4. Is the time horizon appropriate?
  5. How might the goals affect risk-taking?
  6. How might the goals result in unethical behaviour?
  7. Can the goals be tailored for individuals while remaining fair to all?
  8. Will the goals have an influence on organisational culture?
  9. Will individuals be intrinsically motivated?
  10. Given the organisational objectives, are learning goals more appropriate than performance goals?

(Source: Academy of Management Perspectives, 2009, cited in B325, Organizational Collaboration).

The case against goal setting

The main reasons goal setting is problematic:

  • When goals are too specific, they can focus attention so narrowly that other important aspects of a task or problem are overlooked.
  • The goal-setting system itself may be so narrowly focused that important aspects are not actually measured.
  • When there are too many goals being pursued at the same time, the result can be certain goals being more likely to be ignored than others, with the easier goals receiving more focus in order to create the perception of achieving more. Consequently, quality can be sacrificed in favour of quantity.
  • Goals with an inappropriate time horizon can result in focus on short-term activities that harm the organisation in the long-run.
  • When goals are too challenging there can be less motivation to try to achieve them.
  • Goal setting can harm intrinsic motivation as greater emphasis is placed on extrinsic rewards.
  • In complex situations, greater focus can be placed on performance goals instead of learning goals, resulting in inhibited learning.

Negative behaviours can be triggered by goal setting:

  • Goals that are too challenging can result in increased risk-taking.
  • Unethical behaviour can also stem from goals that are too challenging – both in terms of unethical methods used to achieve the goal and/or misrepresentation of the performance level. This can result in harm to an otherwise ethical organisational culture.
  • The decrease in satisfaction that arises from not meeting goals that are too challenging can have a negative effect on how people view themselves, and future performance.
  • A culture of competition can be fostered, instead of one of cooperation and collaboration.

In order to make goal setting more effective, managers need to:

  • Avoid setting goals that increase employee stress
  • Refrain from punishing failure when goals are not met
  • Provide the tools needed to increase the chance of achieving stretch goals
  • Consider whether goals are in fact necessary

Personal reflection

During my career in the IT industry, I have seen many examples of goals gone wild like this, with all of the above problems and negative behaviours manifesting to some degree!

See also, the case for goal setting.

(Source: Academy of Management Perspectives, 2009, cited in B325, Organizational Collaboration).

The case for goal setting

Superordinate goals

A superordinate goal, is a high-level goal that appeals to emotion due to its primary focus being on affect. In an organisation, superordinate goals exist to establish an objective that can capture people’s imagination, and excite and stimulate them to take action.

Examples of superordinate goals are: “To be the employer of choice”, or “To offer the best customer service in town”.

Superordinate goals are often criticised as being nothing but empty slogans, and are therefore often met with cynicism. They can also damage motivation by unrealistically raising expectations. The solution is the setting of concrete goals.

Concrete goals

Concrete goals attempt to make the superordinate goal a reality by converting it from a purely emotional statement to a series of action steps. In order to do this, concrete goals must be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed.

Without being SMART, a goal is just an encouragement to “do this as soon as you can”, or “do your best” – the results of which pale in comparison to performance from setting SMART goals. SMART goals set a challenge. It is clear what is required of an employee if they are to achieve SMART goals. Simple “do your best” goals can result in an employee deluding themselves into thinking they are performing well and that others are being over-critical.

Two principles that help secure employee commitment

There are two principles that can help secure employee commitment:

  • Understand the outcomes people expect and you will understand their behaviour.
  • Change the outcomes people expect, and you will change their behaviour.

Main issues to look out for

Goal setting is not without its challenges. Here are some of the main issues to look out for:

  • When people have the necessary knowledge and skill, a performance-oriented goal should be set.
  • When people do not have the necessary knowledge and skill, a learning-oriented goal should be set. Setting learning goals initially will eventually lead to the ability to set performance goals.
  • Changes in environmental factors (e.g. STEEP factors) can result a reduction in the effectiveness of goal setting. A solution is to break down distal goals into proximal (or sub) goals.
  • Leaders must demonstrate their commitment to superordinate and SMART goals.
  • Leaders must also attempt to make people feel comfortable when they are challenged about behaviour that is not in line with superordinate or SMART goals.
  • Leaders must be accessible in order to let people know their goal attainment efforts are appreciated, and also to let people know they can disagree with the goals that are set.
  • In order to discourage group-think, leaders should attempt to discourage people from agreeing with goals they believe to be wrong.
  • “That which gets measured, gets done.” The measurement system should be aligned with superordinate and SMART goals in order for them to be effective, otherwise people will focus on “that which gets measured”.
  • The cause of dysfunctional behaviour is usually a misalignment of goals and the measurement system in use, rather than a problem with the person exhibiting the behaviour.

See also, the case against goal setting.

(Source: Latham, 2003, cited in B325 Organizational Collaboration).