The breakout group exercise was an even bigger hit than I expected – and a real eye-opener for everyone involved in the retreat. The group, which met for a little over an hour during the morning session of the Good Samaritan Health Clinic’s daylong Board-Executive Team retreat, had been charged – first – to make a list of stakeholder organizations, which we defined as “external entities with which it makes sense for the clinic to build and maintain a working relationship because of the significant stakes involved.” The group’s second task was to identify what appeared to be the 10 highest priority stakeholders and to assess each of the 10 relationships in terms of: the stakes involved, the status of the relationship (for example, “strong,” “so-so,” “weak”), and steps the Clinic might take to strengthen the relationship.
The discussion during the plenary session, when breakout groups shared their work, was lively and illuminating. Everyone was bowled over the by sheer number of stakeholders that’d been identified and how critical the relationships were to the Clinic’s long-run stability and growth. For example, the list included the various media, local governments, health care organizations, and a variety of civic associations, among others. And the steps involved in maintaining solid relationships were eye opening, including fashioning detailed relationship management strategies and assigning accountability for carrying out the strategies to staff and volunteers. However daunting the tasks seemed, participants agreed that the Clinic didn’t have a choice – either aggressively build strong stakeholder relationships or accept steady decline.
The Good Sam experience is typical of a growing number of nonprofits of all shapes and sizes that have made building and maintaining close, positive and productive relationships with key stakeholder organizations a top-tier priority. This is certainly true of the venerable Cleveland Foundation, the nation’s oldest community foundation and one of the four or five largest, and the prestigious Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership. I’m delighted that Bob Eckardt, the Cleveland Foundation’s Executive Vice President, and Michael Langley, CEO of the Partnership, were willing to make time in their hectic schedules to share their perspectives and experience in this informative new podcast for www.extraordinaryceo.com. You’re sure to find nuggets of wisdom that you’ll want to share with your board and staff members and colleagues around the country. And you’re invited to comment, sharing your experience in the stakeholder relations arena.