Last month I posted a link to an article in Nonprofit Quarterly on stakeholder resistance. You may want to read the article first before reading this post, but if you do not have the time, here is a quick overview.
Stakeholder resistance is when people who are not organization “insiders” “engage in acts in a way that challenge, disrupt, and even change organizational policies, practices, and actions.” These acts result in a limit on the autonomy that the organization has in decision making. The authors goes on to note how stakeholder resistance exists between “workplace resistance and civil society resistance. These stakeholders are not employees of an organization but are likely more closely connected to the organization that the broader civil society.” The examples in the article are how stakeholder resistance caused the collapse of the merger between Smile Train and Operation Smile and the reasons why the Girl Scouts stopped using palm tree oil in their famous cookies (who doesn’t love Girl Scout cookies???). These, and the other examples, are used to demonstrate how stakeholder resistance can come from a small group of individuals, an influential group, or a network of groups. Either way, the pressure placed on the organizations by these stakeholders force the organizations to make a change (or not make a change that was sought out in the case of the nonprofit merger). So how does this impact your nonprofit?
If your organization is already experiencing stakeholder resistance, then you may have missed the signs that there was a group of stakeholders who felt they were not being heard. You are in “crisis” mode, trying to figure out what to do and how to respond to this resistance. If you are not experiencing stakeholder resistance, then you try to avoid it. In either case, you want to make sure that you are listening to your different stakeholders and are addressing their concerns. This may not mean making all the changes that they are seeking, but it does mean that you, as an organization, need to address the stakeholders and let them know that their opinion matters to you and how you can work together to come to a solution. Sometime this does mean that you may need to make some changes, but whenever possible, you want to be able to strategically manage the change rather than be force to make a change that you did not plan.
Today’s social media tools allow organizations to engage in relationship building with an array of stakeholders. Those stakeholders who feel that they are not being heard can find others who are as passionate as they are about the issue and create resistance for the organization. The time has passed where nonprofits could ignore these voices. As in any relationship, you want to make sure that you take the time to work on it. And just like any relationship, there will be good times as well as bad. There will be issues you agree on, and those where there is disagreement. Still, you find common ground and move on together.
Have any of you faced stakeholder existence? What did you do? What would you have done different? Could it have been avoided, and if so, how?