Wednesday, 25 November 2015


“Stakeholders” is a word I’ve always used with caution. Some people still regard it as consultants’ jargon – although perhaps less so now than in the past. I’m sticking to it though, partly because it’s shorter than saying “any individual or group who is affected by what your organisation does, or has an influence on it”. More important however is the concept behind it, because it promotes the kind of thinking I describe as outside-in.

The Scots poet Robert Burns certainly wasn’t thinking stakeholders when he wrote his famous lines “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!”*. But the idea of understanding what you, or your organisation, looks like to someone from outside is absolutely relevant and vitally important.

It works for organisations of all kinds, but I encourage the public and third sectors in particular to adopt this outside-in thinking, for several reasons:
•    It’s essential to understanding outcomes – the real difference you make to service users and others
•    It promotes a fresh and objective way of looking at your organisation, which can generate valuable ideas for the future
•    It supports planning, by asking the question “What do we want to achieve?” (and how will we do this?) rather than simply “What do we want to do?”

An example of the last point: several years ago I worked with a Local Authority whose strategic objectives included “Preserving our Natural Heritage”. Sounds good, but I then asked them which stakeholder(s) this aimed to benefit. Were they protecting the environment for future generations, or looking for ways to boost the local economy through tourism? What actions they took to support this objective could vary significantly depending on the answer. (They took this away to think about!)

For community and voluntary sector organisations it may support funding too; not just by showing the value you achieve for current funders, but also by suggesting where future opportunities might lie. Who else benefits from your services, and what does this suggest about working with new partners?

There’s a mind-set thing about stepping outside your own entity and imagining yourself looking in. It isn’t easy and may even lead to asking people questions where you’ve previously relied on assumptions. But the best organisations in the world do it, and the diagram shows how the four Results Criteria of the EFQM Excellence Model link directly to stakeholder perspectives.

I could even extend the concept to global politics – but won’t! Suffice to say that “thinking outside the box” applies just as much to your organisation’s box as it does to other aspects of innovation. Give it a try!

*This is the Gaelic dialect. In standard English: “Oh would some power give us the gift to see ourselves as other see us”

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