Change Management 101: How Knowing Your Stakeholders Can Make or Break Your Project– December 08, 2020 by Mary Washburn

Organizations embark on change continuously, whether by choice or by necessity. However, if not managed effectively, change efforts can cause severe disruption at best, and fail at worst. One key to organizational change is stakeholder management. Too often, change efforts fall prey to lack of engagement, poor communication, underwhelming vision or lack of training. Yet, by understanding the stakeholders involved in and impacted by the change and addressing those needs head on, you can overcome these issues.

Assess Your Stakeholders

Addressing the needs of your stakeholders starts with understanding who those stakeholders are,  identifying the relevant parties of an organization who are impacted by the change. A good way to do this is to start at the focal point of the change and work your way out. Considering changing a point-of-sale (POS) system? This will certainly have an impact on front-line cashiers, their management team and the accounting teams that reconcile sales activity. Executives sponsoring and investing in the change are also involved, as is a learning and development team who is likely spearheading training on the new system, IT and potentially even HR. Beyond these examples of internal stakeholders, several external parties may be affected, such as contractors or representatives of third-party systems that must connect to the new point-of-sale system.

Target Your Efforts

Once all the stakeholders are identified, it is helpful to group these different subsets to better target change efforts. Think of this as product marketing — if you know your customer and what their needs are, you are better positioned to highlight how your product addresses those needs. Likewise, change efforts can be more targeted towards certain groups based on their level of interest in the change and influence over the change. 

We use the interest versus influence matrix to assess stakeholder groups. Groups more affected by the change will likely be more interested. Meanwhile, groups with a higher degree of influence over the change process will be more effective champions for the change.

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Who Are Your Drivers?
“Drivers” are the stakeholders who have a high level of interest in the project and a high level of influence on the organization. In our POS system example above, this stakeholder group would include the implementation project team. These stakeholders need to be the most involved in change efforts because they have the most potential to influence the success of the project. This group should express their support for the change outwardly and adopt the change readily and early. Ensuring they have a clear vision of the project from the start is vital to the sustainability of the change.

Who Are Your Listeners?
Next, the stakeholders who are impacted heavily by the change, but do not carry much power over the project or organization, are considered “Listeners.” Specifically, Listeners fall under the high interest, low influence area of the matrix. These stakeholders are generally those impacted the most by the change, and as such, require consistent and targeted communication and training. These would be front-line cashiers in our earlier POS example.

Who Are Your Blockers?
It is also important to gain the support of “Blockers,” who are identified as stakeholders with low interest in the change, but high influence on the organization. While not necessarily impacted by the change, they have enough influence to potentially derail the process. What if they don’t support the change or think the resources used in the initiative should be spent elsewhere? For example, in a POS implementation, blockers may be accounting or technology leadership. They may not directly benefit from the change and may be worried about the burden a new system will place on their departments. You must gain their approval and support early in the process. Although Blockers do not necessarily need to be involved in the development of the change and implementation, open and ongoing communication is necessary to maintain harmony. 

Who Are Your Bystanders?
Finally, the stakeholders of the organization who are not heavily impacted by the change and cannot greatly influence it are considered “Bystanders.” As this group has low interest and low influence in the change, change efforts can be minimal and passive. Simply focus on keeping this group informed.


Completing the stakeholder assessment gives an organization the ability to identify and target key groups according to their influence and interest related to a change. This analysis gives the project team the ability to tailor communications and training plans to each stakeholder group. It also enables the formation of change teams that are fundamental to the process. Without a stakeholder analysis, it is difficult to offer the right change process to your employees, and in turn, would be risking high levels of resistance to the change.

Contact Mary Washburn at mwashburn@cohenconsulting.com or a member of your service team to discuss this topic further.


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Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Information contained in this post is considered accurate as of the date of publishing. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts, circumstances and current law.