“Incredible. We must be talking about 40 or more stakeholders.” This was one of the responses to the question I asked in the daylong governance work session I was facilitating, after the breakout group dealing with stakeholder relations had completed its report in plenary session. The group had made a list of critical stakeholders – defined as external organizations with which it made sense for the school district to maintain a relationship because something important was at stake – and then identified strengths and weaknesses in each of what appeared to be the ten highest-stakes relationships. The question I had asked was, “What hits you in the face about the list of stakeholders you’re looking at?” The stakeholders the breakout group had identified, by the way, included the largest chamber of commerce in the region, the local university campus, the board of county commissioners, the mayor’s office, and the regional planning commission, among many others. In the ensuing discussion, everyone recognized that there was no way the superintendent could, alone, manage even the highest-stakes stakeholders. There was wide agreement that a board external/stakeholder relations committee would make the best of sense since board members tended to be highly knowledgeable about many of the stakeholders, and in a couple of cases actually sat on stakeholder boards.
Last week’s post at this blog took a look at the critical role of the superintendent as the district’s “Energizer-in-Chief” during challenging times like our nation, along with the rest of the world, is going through now: educating people on the facts and calming their fears. Of course, in the case of a school district, wearing her Energizer-in-Chief hat, the superintendent is dealing with far more amorphous stakeholder groups rather than external organizations: employees; students; and parents.
Stakeholder relationship management is critical to a district’s – and to its superintendent’s – success at all times, not just during crises. And since one size clearly doesn’t fit all in terms of managing stakeholder relationships, my readers will no doubt be interested in what experience has taught me the three major categories of stakeholders.
- There are top-tier stakeholders who always require close attention by your district’s Strategic Governing Team (the board, superintendent and cabinet) because of the high stakes involved: for example, your district’s students and their parents; your board and staff; the organizations that have the capacity generally to influence opinion about your district, such as the chamber of commerce, the office of the mayor; an organization that is an actual or potential provider of significant resources, such as a community foundation, the state department of education; and the electronic and print media; among others.
- There are second-tier stakeholders which need to be monitored to determine whether the stakes have increased enough to merit closer attention, but which generally do not require explicit management; these are often “sleeping dogs” such as community organizations that might suddenly become energized over a particular action your district is contemplating, such as a property tax increase that might bring out the anti-tax forces.
- There are also ad hoc stakeholders that are critical to your district’s accomplishing particular strategic targets, such as a joint-ventured program, but which may fade in importance after the strategic target has been accomplished.
Next week’s post will examine the role that your board’s external/stakeholder relations committee might play in the stakeholder relations arena.