Group of people around a table with puzzled expressions

Even a small business can have many stakeholders — people and organizations that have an interest in what the business does. A small car mechanic shop has owners, customers, and employers, but its neighbors are interested in site management and the larger community wants to be sure that oil and other waste is disposed of properly. The neighbors and the community do not have a financial interest in the business, but they have a “stake” in what it does.

When making a business decision (especially when applying the Four Avenues model), it’s important to consider stakeholders. Disgruntled stakeholders can negatively impact your business in a number of ways, not least of which is giving your company a bad reputation.

To understand stakeholder potential as an ally or an opponent in a particular case, it can be helpful to use a table. Organizing information into a table may aid your decision-making process. Here is a possible simple lay-out for a stakeholder table:

Five-column table with headers (1) stakeholder (2) interests or concerns (3) influence or power (4) alignnment or obstacles (5) how to engage

In the first column, identify the stakeholder. Brainstorm to come up with a good list; you might not think of everyone relevant in your first quick list. Consider including contact information.

The second column gives you a chance to stand in the stakeholder’s shoes. Sure, you think that your company’s neighbors are annoying, but what would you think if you were living where they are? List the interests and concerns that they may have.

In the third column, note the powers or types of influence that the stakeholder may have related to the decision you are facing. Connected to that concept is the fourth column: what are you ways that this stakeholder might help or hurt your business in this situation? Look for ways that the stakeholder and your organization might have similar or complementary interests — maybe you can help each other.

Finally, in the fifth column, jot down notes on how you could constructively engage with the stakeholder. What interests do you share? How could you satisfy someone that you have good intentions? Is there a compromise to be considered?

Combine your stakeholder information with other facts you have gathered to develop a plan for an ethical decision.

Stacey Supina, Center for Ethics in Practice, University of St. Thomas