Stakeholder development in innovation – 8 types of stakeholders crucial to success for intrapreneurs

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Stakeholder development in innovation

8 types of stakeholders crucial to handle for intrapreneurs


What is potentially the biggest leverage as well as the biggest threat for innovation projects? As an entrepreneur-turned-intrapreneur, I´d say it´s politics! I learned the hard way, that it´s crucial for the success of intrapreneurs within politicized corporations to be a savvy political player – and that only “managing” your stakeholders in not enough. I realized that successful intrapreneurs act more like “stakeholder developers”. In this article I share a concept (and canvas) I created, empowering intrapreneurs to develop their political landscape to leverage the assets of their organization.

Likewise in the animal world where it´s all about eating and being eaten, there exists a never ending fight in the business world on whether your project will casts significant seeds or not. In order to survive they have to leave their protected environment sooner or later and be confronted with nature. In the fight for life or death, they keep on searching for food to subsist themselves and their families to grow and survive… so does an intrapreneur with his innovation project.

Prepare to be confronted with nature

As your innovation project will have to take the plunge one day where it will be visible for everyone, you should better find a way to deal with this situation. You will be confronted with a lot of different types of people, some want well, some won’t care and some will want to harm you. You need to stay attentive to weed these people out, and find these people that can support you and your project. Likewise, your innovation project might fail unexpectedly, if you miss to integrate these people (stakeholders) at the right time and in the right manner. While your project develops, you’re stakeholders will develop (or be developed) with it.

In this article (see Chapter three and four), I will share with you a simple framework (canvas) which I developed over a period of time to sensitize me and my teams for politics. It is designed to structure thoughts and to help understanding the potential impact of stakeholders. Moreover, it enables intrapeneurs to keep track of the ever-changing political landscape and share a common language within their team… without over-engineering it and with a „twinkling eye”.

But before I get into the nitty-gritty, the introduction of this framework, I would like to touch on briefly what stakeholder development for innovation projects in general means (chapter one) and some personal perspectives on how to become a savvy diplomat.

I. Stakeholders are people, influenced by your project

A Stakeholder can be described as anyone who shows an interest in your project or who is (or thinks she or he is) influenced by its outcome. How many stakeholders are involved in your project and their level of influence can vary greatly. However, or maybe especially because of this reason, knowing who your stakeholders are and managing them is an essential tasks for intrapreneurs. Therefore, you need to develop a proper understanding of the organization you operate in, as well as the different types of stakeholders you have within your team.

It´s Stakeholder development – not only management

Consequently, stakeholder development (stakeholder management is not the right phrase in innovation), describes the task of developing your stakeholders. This includes finding appropriate stakeholders, matching their ideas with yours and trying to keep them for your project. I like to call it stakeholder development, because it can be seen as some sort of internal business development, which refers to building cooperation with other companies (in order to improve your sales, image etc.), by creatively coming up with ideas beneficial for both sides and continuously measuring success.

Stakeholder Development is like internal business development

I deliberately say “internal”, because stakeholder development only concerns politics within your own organization and the people who belong to it. Thus, no external company is involved in this process.

In the very first moment you might think that this limits the actions of intrapreneurs. This might be right, but nevertheless, stakeholder development enables them working together with different operational units individually. In doing so, intrapreneurs need to be able to apply the skill set of a savvy “political player” without losing sight of the original values and intentions. Depending on your innovation project, stakeholders can play a more or less important role. You need to find out who’s important and who’s not, and always keep an eye on all of them.

Diplomacy is natural

Some make the mistake by not considering stakeholder development as important. They try to keep away from politics as much as they can. Here, you should realize that the success of your project does not only rely on you, but the people who are involved in your innovation project. For this reason, you should never circumvent politics! When you try to avoid politics, you avoid people.

Instead of avoiding, you should attempt to understand what your stakeholders want. Then think about your own goals. Do they match with those of your stakeholders or do you recognize differences? Try to find a balance, but never forget the main goals of your project! You don´t consider yourself a diplomat? No problem, just get one on your team!

Note: Keep politics WITHIN your team to a minimum, but accept that your organization is highly politicized and use that. In the end, it is more about who you know, not what you know. Never underestimate the power of individuals and their connections.

II. My personal take-aways on how to become a diplomat

  • Accept politics and stakeholder development as what it is: A chance to manage the perceptions of your ideas as favorable as possible and to create, implement or improve measurable win-win situations.
  • Inhale the business model canvas of your organization in total and know about the strategic roadmap.
  • Know the official organigram but also the „who with whom“ (who are neighbors, who make holiday together, who play golf together, etc.).
  • What is the agenda of the person you deal with? What are her or his goals and threats? What does her or his routine job look like? Try to collect as many details as possible.
  • Try to build a personal relation whenever possible and stay in contact.
  • Be crystal clear about your own goals, your unalterable vision and how you will provide value to your customers – but very openly ask for feedback regarding measurements, strategy and communication („Ask people for advice and they will help you“).
  • Invite your important stakeholder regularly and provide them with updates during the project. Moreover, introduce goal-oriented discussions with them to match their goals with yours (e.g. the Scrum Review is a perfect surrounding)
  • Every team member should be able to recite the elevator pitch and benefit of your project blindfolded, to avoid misunderstandings in the office grapevine.

And now, I no longer want to beat around the bush, let´s get started with the framework designed for stakeholder development for innovation projects.

III. The Stakeholder development canvas

(© Christopher Waldner)

Its handling is as easy as riding a bike: print it and hang it on the wall, get your team together and start brainstorming. Together, you fill the blank fields with post-its. You think it´s done? – Great! But in innovation a lot changes within weeks: Add, remove and replace continually if necessary.

To keep it smooth, I matched every type with a metaphorical fable animal. So, let me introduce this canvas to you:

The Lion: „Who is your c-level sponsor“

The Lion is known for being a powerful animal. Therefore, it is not surprising that people who have a lot of influence, in society as well as monetary power, are associated w

ith a lion. Meeting a Lion can be intimidating, but you will learn how to handle them and how to convince them supporting your project.

To make one thing clear: I consider it impossible to get the commitment of all groups’ c-level board. So what you should do is try to focus on one lion and make sure that your startup fits its strategic agenda. Try to get it as a sponsor and build a personal relation to your lion. One hint: do not forget its secretary! You may wonder why, but isn´t it the secretary who has the most contact to the lion and does normally all the paperwork? Communicate frequently and informal to stay on their radar and establish a more formal reporting-cycle. I see quarterly working quite fine. Drop the lions name in e-mails, presentations, etc. in order to let your lion know that you´re counting on its support.

The Dragon(s): „Who are your (potential) investors“

Just like the mythical creatures that are hardly to be seen (of course they don’t exist – or do they?), dragons in the sense of stakeholders do not suddenly appear. You need to search closely to find them for your projects.

Step by step, there will be people investing in your project – alike early business angels do in other startups. Make sure to keep on the radar who has invested in your project and whose investments you might need in near future. Not only money is an investment: Maybe it is your line manager who invests your manpower for an innovation topic. Or it is the IT-Department developing a prototype for you.

Note that these dragons often even see your project their own (especially when you´re successful) and tend to instruct you on what to do operationally: Be careful to not blindly follow every of their thoughts and ideas, as in doubt you know best. But still, these people earn a special treatment: Make them trust you and help them with success-stories from „their project“. Ask them for their help or advice regularly and establish a formal reporting/meeting-cycle. I saw monthly working quite good, depending on the number of dragons. As an example, having lunch together is a great opportunity to keep on track – it may be helpful not to bring all of them together in one meeting. Nevertheless, do not forget to meet everyone personally to get a better understanding of their roadmap without politics.

The Donkeys: „Who are your most influential doubters?“

Alike the well-known saying ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’, there will always be people who, for whatever reason, talk badly about you and your ideas.

As donkeys are known for being a quite stubbornness species you will find plenty of them under your potential stakeholders. However, having a donkey can have positive impacts on your project, depending on which kind of donkey you´re dealing with. So far, I have been confronted with three different kinds of donkeys: the smart, the cautious and the thoroughly stubborn donkey. After a while, I was able to estimate whether one of those donkeys might be helpful for my projects or not. Here are some characteristics to detect and tips to handle them:

The smart donkey

Is your donkey eager to learn and pointing valuable critics in a more or less respectful way? Lucky you, you´ve found a smart donkey. But be careful and try not to be a donkey yourself! Respect its opinion, accept its critics (if appropriate) and do not defend yourself as a reflex. Ask questions and invite it to public or private discussion. There is a lot you can learn from this donkey!

The cautious donkey

Does she or he fear loss of status, captaincy, autonomy, relatedness or fairness? There you go: this donkey is definitely a cautious one. In these situations a donkey can easily turn to a little dog biting to protect himself (Mother Nature will forgive me for this metamorphosis). To give the dog a big bone might calm it for the moment but your aim should be making it feel secure all the time. For this reason, try to understand your biting dog and its fears to give what it really needs. By doing so, you´ll be soon able to turn it into a smart donkey. Still, you will not always be able to change how afraid a dog behaves – be understanding, but keep an eye on it.

The stubborn donkey

Is the donkey acting like a douche bag who simply doesn´t like you? Then you should try not to get influenced by its opinion and stay on your track. Or even better: try to avoid any further contact.

As you can see, there are different kinds of donkeys around the business world. If you´re lucky, you´ll find some who share your values and believes, but do not (yet) see the benefits for your customers and organization that you promote. Others in turn may feel threatened by you or your projects and again others just don´t like you. In any case, they are clearly donkeys that do not completely get your point.

However, do not ignore them and take them seriously! They could still play an important role for your project, in a positive or negative sense. Try to meet informal to build a personal relation. Ask them for advice (especially the smart donkeys), think about their doubts and express that you respect their opinion. Maybe you´ll be able to convince them, maybe not. At least, there will be no unexpected attack from somebody hidden in a bush.

The Mice: „Whose operational job will be changed by your project?”

Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Co-creation – you name it. In one or another way, the principle of integrating customers in the innovation process is no longer rocket science. It is, moreover, a common sense for corporate innovation projects. Nevertheless, your mice are the ones that are often overlooked and left behind. Hidden in their mice holes, you might not think of them at first sight. But you should never forget that most innovation project will also change the daily operations of some people within their organization. Identify lead-users and integrate these „experiment mice“ into your iterations – they will thank you for it.



The Owls: „Who are your most important carriers of know-how?”

An essential feature of innovation projects within existing corporations is the huge amount of specific know-how it can access even in early stages. Use it!

Identify your most important carrier of know-how and don´t be afraid of asking them questions. Just like the animal is known for its honesty and wisdom, they will give you always a sincere respond.

Sometimes they might seem a little bit conservative with your idea. Don´t get anxious by that, it´s in their nature. These owls normally grew up in their ivory tower and can only consult you. Use their know-how, but not every advice.

Maybe you´re lucky and you can even impassionate them for your ideas and make them work with you.

Commonly, you will find wise owls in your department for communication, compliance and legal. But depending on your project, you might search in other departments to find the right owls.

The Foxes: „Who are your most important enablers?“

You will find these kinds of people within every corporation – smart foxes who can help you to find your way around. Just like their co specifics, foxes are generous individuals who help you to guide you through your project. They´ll advise you with whom you should talk to and how to handle political hurdles. If you find the right fox, it will help you networking and additionally open you the possibilities to talk to specific persons by setting up lunch dates, etc.

Typically, these people were raised within your organizations and have built a significant network over the years. They are absolutely loyal towards your mother organization and therefore are trusted all around. Note: They are not necessarily in upper management positions.

It will take some time to identify who your foxes are, as there can be always a trickster among them. Once you´ve identified them, try to impassionate them for you and your ideas. If you´ve done so, you can lean back a little bit and let them take care about politics. But be careful, this does not mean that you´re done with your work. As I said, there can be always a swindler who wants your project to fail. Make sure you´ll really find a fox you can trust in. And do not mix it up with beavers (in the following) – Foxes will not „get shit done“ for you, they will just help you to find the right people to talk with.

The Beavers: „Who are your most important coworkers (besides the committed team)?“

Innovation Projects attract young, ambitious pioneers like bees around a honey pot. But unlike chickens (see below), who just ask questions and delegate you (instead of setting their hands on the project), beavers actively help you to “get shit done”: This is very welcome.

Likewise the animal, stakeholders who can be classified as beavers, are hardworking individuals who are willing to use their manpower in order to carry out your project. Take care to keep these people in your team and guide them if necessary. Try to give them specific tasks (e.g. in areas like research) that will help you in mid- to long-term and which do not severely touch your core business. As they will help you on top of their normal job you should give them your thanks and appreciation they deserve. By letting them know how grateful you are for their commitment, you’ll make them hard to let you down.

By the way, this is how to differ a beaver from a chicken: Ask the person to get a specific job done for you and track whether she or he does it with the same ambition and commitment they join meetings and ask questions. Like this, you will easily see who really wants to build a dam with you.

The Chickens: „Who wants to be cc?

These guys are not important for your success, but they think they are. Even though, chicken are gregarious animals with a big sense of community, they´re purported to be jumpy fellows and lazy in their nature. Thus, having a chicken in your team might be sociable but it won´t help you continue to move your projects forward.

Imagine a chicken trying to convince a pig to team up to open a new restaurant called „ham and eggs“. After some time of consideration the smart pigs denies the chicken: „I have to say no, because we wouldn´t really be a team“, the pig says. „I´d be committed – you´d only be involved“.

I´m sure that you can name tons of chickens in the macrocosm of your project: They want to stay in touch, need to be informed about this and that and support you with their smart advice arising from a unknown source of divine knowledge. All they want is being involved when things are going well. You will see them clucking around loudly without taking action. In lean times, you´ll find them hidden in their chicken coop incubating a new egg.

How to identify a chicken? They:

– will not guard you like a lion.

– will not invest resources in you like a dragon.

– do not actively help you like foxes or beavers.

– do not carry specific knowhow like owls do.

– will not operationally be affected by your project if rolled out like mice.

– , unlike donkeys, cannot cause severe harm if ignored.

If you´re nice, you should try to ignore them. Better: Tell them respectfully that you cannot see any impact today or in the future and ask them to leave their eggs somewhere else.

After meeting all your potential stakeholders, here´s the canvas as a tool to work with – arranged from top to down regarding the strategical impact they could have.

Feel free to drop me a mail to get a printable version of the canvas!

IV. Get started

Now that you now know how to classify your potential stakeholders you can get started with developing your political landscape strategically. Use it like I do to sensitize you and your team for people and politics. You´ll probably have a common language, so use it to discuss the potential impact of stakeholders and to develop a way to handle the different kinds of people – friends or predators. Like your innovation projects scope, your stakeholder landscape will be ever-changing and developing. Use the canvas to keep an eye on this landscape while your project gains traction… everything with the necessary mix of seriousness and a „twinkling eye”.

I hope it helps you to structure your thoughts when kicking off!

Any thoughts or hands-on experiences that help me to further develop this approach? Drop a comment or an e-mail to