Stakeholder relationship mapping (with free worksheet)

One of the single most important elements to being successful in life, which I don’t seem to hear so many people talk about, is simply the importance of being likeable.

There’s a lot that goes into that.

Being a generally kind human. Not interrupting people and ensuring people feel heard. Creating space for everyone to “hold the mic” (not just those who are the loudest). Not steamrolling people. Being a generally reasonable person who is curious to learn and open to changing their mind. Giving credit where credit is due (especially to the unsung heroes), closing the loop on the impact others have on you and your team, I could go on and on and on…

Being likeable extends far beyond the single tactic I want to share today and there are degrees to which some will find this much easier than others. Some people are just naturally charismatic, some people have an aura of trustworthiness that draws people in to them like a moth to a flame, some walk around in life with walls up, guarding themselves from any sort of authentic connection.

*If this is an area you feel you could upgrade for yourself, I really love the team over at Charisma on Command who have some incredible celebrity case studies breaking down the art of being charismatic and generally likeable.

Even without building up all of your soft skills though, there is a way anyone can lean into a pragmatic view of understanding their key relationships in business.

Something I realised I’ve always done when walking into a new environment where I know I will be working with a net new set of stakeholders (whether it be on the client side, or even my recent move to our Melbourne office from Brisbane) is undergo a little “Stakeholder Relationship Mapping” exercise.

Although I’d never formalised it in a worksheet previously, I noticed that in reflection there were a few key activities I would undergo, whether in my mind drifting off to sleep, or scribbled across various pages in my notebook.

So in a bid to make these activities accessible and easier to showcase, I prepared a little worksheet as a guide. Find it below.

I don’t gate resources I hope you will get value from. Though I hope that if you like what you see here, you’ll consider subscribing to the newsletter to be the first to receive items like these as they drop, before they eventually make it up on the blog.

Grab the worksheet in white or beige by clicking on the links below.

How it works

Top Table Area

I’ve long been a fan of the book The First 90 Days. One of the key messages, after establishing an understanding of what it is you are there to do, includes the need to walk the halls and understand where agendas align and where there is friction.

I find the easiest way to start this process is simply creating a table with key people to meet (this can be guided by your boss or project manager too) to create a bit of a “who is who in the zoo” at a glance.

Most importantly in this table is the “Their Agenda” and “How to Engage” columns. This is where we go from information to insight.

“Their Agenda” includes that which they are driving. Just like you have a job to do, they do too. Knowing this helps you to keep top of mind how you can help them (what a likeable thing to do?!) which will help you build trust. Of course, if “Their Agenda” conflicts with your own or impacts your own timelines or objectives to deliver on, that requires a little more consideration. Tactics that follow will make it in a blog post for another time but in the meantime, read up on My Lessons in Influencing Change. The very first step though is to identify and jot down the information.

The “How to Engage” is more about understanding people’s preferences around communication. How do they organise themselves? Do they prefer to deeply digest information prior to meeting to discuss? Send them a pre-read. Are they super difficult to pin down? Know that you need to be concise, likely need to find time in their diary to pin them down for key decisions. Do they prefer to pick up the phone or chat on Slack? 

These notes go here.

This is a great exercise for visual people. I like to tackle this in one of two ways. Either detail out an org chart (concept map style) if you prefer a more structured view and if you have the kind of visibility to do this easily.

Another option is to draw out a “Boardroom Table” (read: a rectangle with little circles for the heads that sit around it) including the key people you are likely to engage with. Use arrows to indicate who addresses who with key questions. The person who lands with the most arrows pointed at them is usually a key influencer. Often this is the head honcho or project lead but this isn’t what is most interesting. What is most interesting is who this person looks to for insights. Who do they address consistently? Who do they want to hear from? Be sure to keep the context of particular discussions in mind as this may vary on the context. 

This little exercise is called “Influence” or “Power Mapping”. Harvard have a great write up on this here.

This is great approach it’s important for you to take a team or project view to start (i.e. if your remit does not expand across the org, depending on your role).

In this example most questions would be directed to John while John consistently addresses Sarah for her input indicating Sarah has key influence in this engagement.

Matrix Map

Now that you have a lay of the land and a view for “who is who in the zoo”, it’s time to understand where you have alignment and where you need to focus your relationship building. I find this 2 x 2 matrix a helpful way to categorise your relationship building priorities.

Once you have this matrix, it becomes easier to understand who’s agenda’s align easily to yours (Enablers) where in the left quadrant, you have relationships you need to build and in the right, you have relationships you need to maintain and nurture.

In the bottom quadrants, on the left you have those it will be likely difficult to build alignment and a coalition with. Either their agenda’s are in direct conflict to yours or they simply do not agree with the direction. This will require significant investment to influence and change and it’s unlikely you will be able to achieve it on your own. 

The bottom right individuals may still have a different agenda or opinion but may be more likely to reach a compromise, whether that be around prioritisation of timelines, finding ways to share resources, sharing budgets or whatever else might enable you to find a way to work together.

Again, the first step is merely mapping what “is”. The subsequent moves for how to enable progress and achieve goals requires many further steps from here, but the first step is always knowing. As the famous Maya Angelou says, “when we know better, we can do better.”

Hi I'm Kate! I'm relentlessly curious about the attribution and origin of things. Especially as it relates to being a corporate girly balancing ambition and a life filled with joy.

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