Stakeholder Mapping

stakeholder mapping

We associate stakeholder mapping with leading change but stakeholder mapping needs to be a part of any strategic decision process.  Identifying key stakeholders early in the process reduces risk of bad ideas, unexpected resistance, and having the wrong people on the implementation team.

Stakeholder Mapping Steps

My preferred approach to stakeholder mapping combines the power and interest grid with stakeholder salience. The power and interest grid has the advantage of being intuitive and quick, which is not to be discounted when one considers all the complex tools that are often being sold by change management consultants. The stakeholder salience framework begins the process of clarifying the different interests and needs of the high-interest stakeholders and is valuable when diving more deeply into stakeholder analysis.

Step 1: Draw the power and interest grid on a flip chart.

Step 2: Start by identifying high-power/high-interest stakeholders.

Place each stakeholder to the right of the dashed line if you have strong evidence of their interest. If you are merely assuming interest, but no one in the group has direct verification of it, place them to the left of the dashed line. This step is important because it is a check against the confirmation bias as well as overconfidence. Continue this step until no more high-power/high-interest stakeholders can be identified.

Step 3: Shift over to the left side of the grid and try to identify high-power/low-interest stakeholders.

Step 3 is the key step in this exercise. In my experience, asking people to think of high-power/low-interest stakeholders seems to flip a mental frame in people’s minds. The result is that the group inevitably fills in the lower-right side of the grid (low-power/high-interest). Strange as it sounds, asking people to identify high-power/low-interest stakeholders leads to the generation of numerous low-power/high-interest stakeholders that were missed in step 2. These are the stakeholders that are essential to discover.

The stakeholders identified in step 2 were the obvious ones—the stakeholders that the team was already thinking about and the ones that, even without stakeholder mapping, the team was likely going to factor their perspectives into while making their decision. The stakeholders revealed in step 3 are the hidden ones—the stakeholders that would have been missed if the team had not done this exercise. The entire point of this exercise was to discover those stakeholders. They are the people or groups who have expertise or passion for the issue but are not in positions that immediately bring them to mind. Their expertise and interest may be valuable to tap early to improve the execution of the initiative.

Step 4: Identify stakeholder salience.

Standard approaches to stakeholder mapping stop after the completion of a stakeholder map, such as the power and influence grid. Step 4 begins the process of building from the completed grid and draws from the work on stakeholder salience by Mitchell, Agle, and Wood[i] to start to tease out differences among the high-interest stakeholders. Add each stakeholder listed on the right side of the grid (high interest) to the first column in Table 1. Score each stakeholder along the three attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency. I recommend a four-point, less-to-more scale. The four-point scale removes a midpoint score. It also avoids the tendency within groups to get caught up on precise numbering when faced with a seven- or ten-point scale.[ii] I use the definitions of these terms taken directly from Mitchell, Agle, and Wood’s original article, which they, in turn, drew from widely accepted definitions:

Power: relationship among social actors in which one social actor, A, can get another social actor, B, to do something that B would not have otherwise done

Legitimacy: a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions

Urgency: the degree to which stakeholder claims call for immediate attention

Table 1: Identify Stakeholder Salience

Stakeholder Power Legitimacy Urgency


Step 5: Map stakeholders based on the three salience attributes.

Mitchell, Agle, and Wood sort and label groupings of stakeholders based on the degree to which they embody the three attributes scored in step 4. The figure below re-creates their suggested labels using a Venn diagram. Place stakeholders on the diagram. Scores of three or greater place the stakeholder within the circle for that attribute.

stakeholder mapping

Mapping stakeholder salience

Next Steps

The act of creating the stakeholder maps often clarifies the next steps, the most common of which include the following:

  • Considering a stakeholder engagement plan: Which stakeholders should be engaged, when should they be engaged, and how should they be engaged? There are often one or two that could help the initiative most if engaged early and perhaps brought into the planning process.
  • Strategizing the best way to frame the issue for stakeholders and ensuring the frames are consistent and aligned across stakeholder groups: Some issue frames may seem perfect for one stakeholder, but if used, they could turn another group against the initiative or even demoralize the change team itself.[iii]
  • Deciding how often to revisit the stakeholder work: All too often stakeholder mapping is done once during a project and then never revisited. Stakeholder dynamics are fluid and constantly evolving, so it is essential to revisit the mapping and make adjustments throughout the process.

This description of stakeholder mapping is adapted from Chapter 8 of Unquestioned Brilliance. For more on this and other strategic leadership techniques see Unquestioned Brilliance: Navigating a Fundamental Leadership Trap.


[i] Mitchell, Agle, and Wood, “Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience,” 853-886.

[ii] Having spent the past eight years wrestling with the seven-point scoring template used in an approach to scenario planning that I’ve taught numerous times, I’ve learned my lesson.

[iii] For a good example of frames having implications for the motivation change champions, see this study of LGBT workplace activists. Certain arguments for domestic-partner benefits (namely, that the benefits don’t cost much) would have been highly persuasive for the target executives but would have been destructive to the morale of the change team (because they shift the argument away from equality and fairness and to one of simple cost. The implication is that as long as the fix is cheap, the company should not discriminate.). W. E. Douglas Creed, Maureen M. Scully, and John R. Austin, “Clothes Make the Person? The Tailoring of Legitimating Accounts and the Social Construction of Identity,” Organization Science 13, no. 5 (2002): 475–96.