Blog: 21st Century stakeholder management

21st Century stakeholder management Vs 16th Century Scotland

I was talking to an IT Director this week who described his organisation as like 16th Century Scotland. I must admit I was intrigued; my knowledge of 16th Century is somewhat limited.

Well, he explained, there’s a King, who has an army, a crown and sits in the big chair at the top of the table.

There’s also the clans, some of whom have bigger armies than the King’s. Allegiances between clans change on a regular basis, and this has a profound effect on the overall stability of the country.

In such a situation, gaining the patronage of the King is important, but no guarantee of security. Much more important is to keep a close eye on all the various power bases and ensure that you don’t get too close to someone who’s about to fall out of favour.

Does this scenario ring any bells?

Welcome to 21st Century stakeholder management. Admittedly, some organisations are larger and more complex than others. I’ve worked in some places where the boss is the boss and it’s understood throughout the business that what he says goes. You might disagree with him but at least the dynamics are very simple.

On the other extreme, I’ve seen organisations with several key power-bases, all with their own short and long term agenda. Unless you’re in the middle of it, it’s very hard to know what’s going on.

One of the problems associated with this situation is that IT can sometimes be used as a political football – IT projects are approved or rejected according to personal agendas, rather than business benefit.

Clearly this is a challenge for the conscientious IT professional, and demonstrates the need for a high degree of political awareness alongside those hard-earned PRINCE2 or ITIL qualifications.

Unfortunately, when you enter into IT, no-one ever explains this to you. Many IT people are brilliant technically, and work in IT because they are really good at design, problem solving, coding or whatever, and one of the good things about binary is either it is, or it isn’t.*

I suspect that there is a real need for a “Boardroom politics for IT Professionals” qualification, just to give us a helping hand with all this stuff. Maybe it could even be run from some converted castle north of the border!

*There are 10 types of people in the world – those who understand binary and those who don’t.