This research note is restricted to the personal use of Sudhakar Kothapalli (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Effective Communications: Stakeholder Analysis
31 August 2009
Analyst(s): Heather Colella
Great communication inspires action and commitment and drives better business outcomes. A key to this is to understand to whom you are
speaking so you can structure messages that are meaningful to your audience. In this research, we discuss how to perform a stakeholder
This research is reviewed periodically for accuracy. It was last reviewed on 7 December 2015.
This research is the third in a series about effective communications. The first publication presented a strategy for effective communication
and discussed how to improve presentation skills; the second publication addressed how to develop a communications plan. This
publication will address the question: How do I understand my audience in order to develop effective messages for each of my stakeholder
groups? Future publications in this series will be dedicated to addressing how to communicate IT updates and IT performance.
Communications that consider the specific needs of its stakeholders are considerably more effective than communications that do not.
IT leaders can move from order takers to strategic partners by becoming more of an influencer with their key stakeholders and by
understanding the influence the key stakeholders have in IT decisions.
Great communication involves delivering the right type of communication and right amount of information to the right people at the
right time, using a method that works for them.
Understand the people and groups of people you are talking to by performing a stakeholder analysis.
Develop messages that consider the specific and unique needs of your stakeholder groups.
Communicate with stakeholders in their language to increase your communication effectiveness. Adjust messages and refine your vision
as required to continuously engage stakeholders in your mission.
Stakeholder: A person or group that has an investment, share or interest in something. — www.dictionary.reference.com
A stakeholder is an individual or a group of people who have a vested interest in what you have to say. For example, in a political
campaign, registered voters have a vested interest in the candidates. Individuals and institutions who buy stock in a company have —
literally — a vested stake in the company. Based on the type of communication you want to deliver, it is critical to identify those people who
care, or should care, about your message and to craft a message just for them.
A communications strategy (covered in "Effective Communications: A Strategy" (http://www.gartner.com/document/code/170328?
ref=grbody&refval=1156814) ) provides the overall framework for communication, and a communications plan brings the strategy to life by
addressing the specific components for each communication (discussed in "Effective Communications: How to Develop a Communications
Plan" (http://www.gartner.com/document/code/170368?ref=grbody&refval=1156814) ). The foundation of the communications plan,
however, is understanding the people who have a stake in what you say.
1.0 Know and Understand Your Stakeholders
Identifying who your communications stakeholders are is one of the key components of a communications plan (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Example of a Communications Plan
Source: Gartner (August 2009)
CIOs and IT executives are in a unique role, because the business of IT impacts every area of the enterprise, from shareholders in the
enterprise to the executive levels of management to the frontline employees. Technology — whether they know it or not — touches them all.
The challenge becomes focusing the effort of communication to create the highest level of impact possible. If one were to communicate
every little thing about technology to every single stakeholder touched by technology, well, each communication wouldn't have much
impact at all. Instead, the challenge is about understanding the impact that technology has on the individual or groups of individuals and
tailoring a message to that person or group that they need to hear. In fact, the business of technology is tricky, particularly as it relates to
communication. Even though technology pervades every level of our lives, it still remains a "black box" mystery at the detailed level. To talk
to a CEO about server virtualization or the complexities of designing a network is futile; talking, instead, about how actions within the
department are going to save money, help grow the enterprise faster or attract more customers to the enterprise is far more compelling.
So, the critical first step is to understand to whom you are talking and to understand why they want to know or need to hear what you are
going to say.
Identify the stakeholders in technology communication by listing all of the groups of people within the enterprise. Examples include:
Board of directors, including the CEO
Executive team — those who report directly to the CEO
Business unit leaders
While these are common examples, other stakeholders that CIOs are increasingly thinking about include customers and the media.
Communication is a leadership competency, and your role as chief leader of the IT organization is to continuously build the leadership skill
within your organization, so engage your staff in this process. Develop the list of stakeholders that you have, and facilitate a frank and
open conversation, using the series of questions in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Stakeholder Questions
Source: Gartner (August 2009)
Now that you have a better understanding of each stakeholder group and stakeholder individual within the enterprise, map each to the
types of communications you plan to use within the enterprise. In the previous publication of this series (see "Effective Communications:
How to Develop a Communications Plan" (http://www.gartner.com/document/code/170368?ref=grbody&refval=1156814) ), you were
encouraged to develop this list.
While the portfolio of items you develop for your organization may differ, Figure 3 presents common examples of IT communications that
Gartner Executive Programs has found among its member CIOs.
Figure 3. Develop a Communications Portfolio
Source: Gartner (August 2009)
For each of the communications you identified for your enterprise, map the stakeholders to each type of communication in the portfolio
(see the example in Figure 4).
Figure 4. Map Stakeholders to Communication Types in the Communications Plan
Source: Gartner (August 2009)
2.0 Improve Effectiveness by Developing Meaningful Messages
"Communicating is about getting agreement on what the direction and priorities for IS are, and ensuring that we understand what the
key issues and needs in the business are. By accurately understanding these, we avoid confusion." — Owen McCall, CIO, The
If there was a single way to impart a message, we would all be excellent communicators, yet the amorphous nature of communication
makes developing a meaningful message such a challenge. What works one day with one person may not work another day with another
To improve your effectiveness, begin by understanding stakeholders and their concerns. Look at things from their perspective by using the
work you did in Section 1.0 of this research.
Now, think about the message you want to convey, and weave a story, keeping these questions in mind:
Why do they care?
Why should they care if they don't care?
What is the benefit to them?
What is the challenge you need them to engage in?
What is the expected outcome of the message?
As discussed in "Effective Communications: A Strategy," (http://www.gartner.com/document/code/170328?ref=grbody&refval=1156814)
the framework for communications is an ongoing process of creating messages, informing and educating stakeholders, and sensing and
responding to how the messages are being received in order to adjust those messages to achieve success (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Framework of an Effective Communications Strategy
Source: Gartner (August 2009)
Effective messaging varies by industry, enterprise, stakeholder group and individual. What follows are best practices and key themes to
keep in mind when constructing a message (for excerpts from case studies, see Section 4.0):
Top IT leaders live and breathe the business and actually get to know critical customers or view IT through the eyes of the enterprise's
Rather than speaking in technology terms, talk in terms of business value and business benefits.
Customize how messages are presented, based on the role and needs of the stakeholder group or individual. Work to ensure that the IT
organization is delivering a consistent message. Update the messages being delivered as changes occur.
Engage the enterprise in communications by staying engaged. Help stakeholders internalize key messages by working with them
regularly to achieve the required level of internalization. While talking is one aspect of effective communications, listening is the second
aspect. Use listening skills to sense and respond to changes and needs in the enterprise.
Segment stakeholders into groups, and develop messages for each group.
Develop the points that need to be made, and create a story that brings the points to life.
3.0 Communication Rules of Thumb
"People understand you can't release certain types of information, but they also understand there is a lot of information you can share.
If you never talk about it, it looks like you're operating in a vacuum and hiding — or, worse, that you don't even know about the issue.
People won't have any confidence in your knowledge of problems and operational strategies if you don't communicate." — Thomas
Birch, former Technical Assistant to the CIO, Intel
Communication is a twoway street, requiring the ability to deliver an effective message and to listen carefully to feedback from the
recipient. Great communication involves delivering the right type of communication and right amount of information to the right people at
the right time, using the right method. Communicating with stakeholders in their language enables CIOs to continually monitor their
effectiveness so they can adjust the messages and refine their vision.
Determining when to communicate to an individual versus a group can be tricky. Some general rules can help:
Deliver a sensitive message personally to engage the individual in a frank discussion about the issue.
Communicate personally at the executive level. Even when preparing for an executive governance board meeting where all will be
present, select a few key board members to whom you can present the ideas in advance.
Communicate to groups when the message is a consistent communication that all in attendance need to hear. Questions raised and
answered during the group meeting will help the entire group to understand and act on the message. Examples include policy or
process changes and operational issues.
Use enterprise supporters to influence other stakeholders to help engage more people across the enterprise in your purpose.
During the stakeholder analysis, you were asked to consider the influence that various stakeholders and stakeholder groups have on
technology and technology decisions. The discussion topic in this publication will delve deeper into how to use influencers in the
The first step is to reexamine the purpose behind each of the communication types that have been identified for the enterprise. The second
step is to align each of your stakeholders and stakeholder groups to common purposes. For example, the board of directors and executive
management are likely to be aligned to a communication whose purpose is to discuss the direction of technology.
Next is to identify those supporters of the messages you want and need to communicate and the relationships your stakeholders have with
one another. For example, the CEO and the leader of Business Unit (BU) A are both supporters of technology being used to grow the
business. The CEO by his or her role has a natural ability to influence the other BU leaders, but the leader of BU A is also personal friends
with the head of BU C. You will want to engage the CEO and the leader of BU A in the communications process of the IT strategy.
By leveraging the influence that various stakeholders have, you are:
Further internalizing their appreciation of the messages you want to deliver
Engaging more of the organization in your cause
Building more support
People engage with people they know, people they like and people they respect. Get to know your peers in your organization and let them
get to know you. Approach communication in a factbased manner with the same integrity that you approach your life, and credibility will
be established and improved with every interaction you have.
Our next series of communications will each be designed to explore a particular communication type. The first will discuss how to
communicate an IT strategy.
4.0 Case Studies
Effective messaging varies by industry, enterprise, stakeholder group and individual. What follows are some examples from IT executives
on how they apply the strategy of communications within their enterprises.
IT Director, Auto Company
"CIOs often have difficulty communicating. Many started as engineers and worked their way up to 'head geek' — a role that, combined
with the introverted tendencies of such people, often hinders rather than helps communications with the business and customers. As the
role of CIO has transitioned from a technical to a business focus, learning to communicate well from a business value perspective has
become essential. To be a CIO these days requires learning how to talk to people about business benefits, coordinate with multiple
constituencies, become a solid negotiator and communicate at a different level. Clearly, communication is a survival skill. Without it, a CIO
at a major corporation will not stay in the job."
Jim Burns, CIO, State of Alabama, U.S.
"Each of the groups to whom we communicate has a different view of IT and what it does. Whether they are our citizens, the governor,
other government leaders or IT leaders, and state employees, they each have different vocabularies and tolerances for technical dialogue. I
find myself in the role of a translator — translating 'technotalk' into plain English. It is critical to know your audience in order to do this
well, because audiences will not accept, or even receive, your message if they don't understand it."
Michael Miller, CIO, Missouri Department of Transportation
"Communicating IT's value is a challenge for every CIO. The business has other investments it can make if it doesn't see the value from IT.
We work in a department of transportation, and our end product is a wellrun transportation system that delights our customers and
provides economic value for Missouri. If we don't prove the value of IT investments, then we won't be here long. Communicating IT's value
requires a communications strategy and plan aimed at helping diverse audiences understand IT's accomplishments and its plans for
furthering the business goals as well as preempting any negative reactions when things go awry.
Effectively communicating the value of IT to leadership entails using not only common business terms but also the vernacular and
analogies/metaphors used by the enterprise. To convey IT's value to our board, the Missouri Department of Transportation commission
and our leadership, I find it very helpful to use a transportation analogy to articulate why the issues they face are the same kinds of issues
we face. If they can see the need to invest in a transportation system because the ultimate customer will receive a benefit in terms of safety
or economies, then I can make that same argument in regards to IT investment."
Tim Newing, IT Director, easyJet
"CIOs need to appreciate how important communications are for them. [Communications] keep people informed, while simultaneously
shaping people's opinion about IT. As CIOs, we have to communicate in the right way to different groups of people. The messages may be
the same, but the language needs to be different for different groups. We created a communications plan that focuses on a small set of
internal and external messages to improve the perception of IT and to help ensure that my managers and I are all saying: (a) the same
thing; and (b) the topmost important things. The messages get delivered anytime we are talking to our stakeholders."
Newing uses four messages to communicate within his enterprise: IT delivers; IT provides good value; IT helps differentiate in a downturn;
and IT focuses on service. As conditions change, especially when opinions have been successfully altered, the set of key messages needs to
be updated. "As part of my quarterly management team meeting, we look at the key message set and decide as a team what messages are
most pertinent for the next quarter." He and his team craft communications carefully. "What I talk to my CEO about is very different from
what I talk about to somebody on my team, for example. The CEO is concerned about share price, return on investment, an ...
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