Stakeholders vs. Customers: Performance Expectations

Stakeholders vs. Customers: Performance Expectations

“Customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company,” said Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos (@zappos). A key organizational competency is a strategic focus on meeting the needs of our primary customers or clients. Without customers, an audience, clients, a loyal following, or others we are trying to reach, we have no viable organization.

Still, organizations are constantly evaluated by those an exclusive customer focus can neglect in their strategy. These are stakeholders: any person or organization that can be affected by or cause an impact upon an organization. A stakeholder can place a claim on the organization’s resources, attention, or output.

External stakeholders include:

  • our community
  • clients
  • suppliers
  • government agencies
  • legislators
  • regulators
  • grantmakers
  • donors
  • legacy givers
  • service partners
  • peer organizations

Internal stakeholders include:

  • professional and technical employees
  • support staff
  • policy boards
  • employee organizations
  • management staff

A stakeholder analysis identifies:

  • internal and external stakeholders
  • how stakeholders evaluate the organization
  • levels of influence
  • what stakeholders expect of the organization
  • what the organization needs from stakeholders

The “customer” label is usually applied to the organization’s key stakeholder.

A comprehensive stakeholder analysis in strategic planning is critical to organizational success. Identifying stakeholder expectations uncovers both the open and sometimes hidden performance criteria we must meet to maintain support and influence. These expectations are the criteria by which organizational performance is judged.

An effective strategic planning process identifies not only our primary “customer,” but everyone else with the power to hold expectations and make demands upon us. Stakeholder analysis locates the organization within its networks and political dynamics and helps us grasp these interdependent relationships. To maintain organization viability, we must understand all that our stakeholders expect of us and identify ways we can interact to produce what we each need from the other. This is the heart of a good strategic plan.


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