How to conduct a
Stakeholder Survey

There are many reasons for wanting to conduct a stakeholder survey, but at the core of all is hopefully a desire to understand and serve all stakeholders better.

Our Applied Corporate Governance™ methodology brings together all our best corporate governance practice and places it firmly at the centre of the strategic management process which is itself part of our Golden Rules of good corporate governance. Here we provide some help, guidance, and templates to use on a smaller scale or as a "one-off" stakeholder survey for a particular purpose (in which case a particular area covered here can be used as a base on which to elaborate). In addition, the questions and templates given here are designed to be easily used to create online surveys so you can get your stakeholder survey published and working quickly and cheaply - or even at no cost using free online survey tools.

It is important to realise here that while in practice you may wish to build other topics into the survey - for example customer feedback on a new product - what is covered here is purely what relates people to your organisation as stakeholders. There is clearly a lot of cross-over, especially with an internal stakeholder survey, where employee feedback, for example, is clearly an important part of any Human Resource audit. And indeed we would almost recommend that the stakeholder survey be attached to other established research programmes - but only in the sense of timing and cost effectiveness.

To elaborate, the reason we say 'almost' is because of the danger of the stakeholder part becoming an afterthought in other programmes. What we are trying to achieve through this website is that good corporate governance can easily be built into an organisation's existing systems, thus avoiding the costs and aloofness of a separate department. So if there are regular surveys and market research conducted, it would be logical to work with these existing budgets and planning resources. However, the way in which this research is carried out will probably need adjusting to incorporate a stakeholder survey and indeed this may be the first time different research programmes are brought together. In our experience, this itself can be hugely illuminating in the cross-references that previously have been hidden in separate databases. This is one of the huge benefits we have seen through taking a different approach to corporate governance by placing it at the heart of good management - the benefits themselves are therefore inevitably reflected in improvements to management and the business/organisation as a whole.

Who are my stakeholders?

This may seem like an obvious question but often there has been no formal stakeholder analysis so it is difficult to know actually who to involve in the stakeholder survey. Even if you think you know the answer, it is surprising how vague this answer can be when actually working out who to approach or invite to participate in the survey - especially with external stakeholders. Without clear specifications the results will also lack clarity and so you will need to produce classifications/categories to give meaning to the responses - remember the computer industry axiom GIGO - garbage in, garbage out.

So instead of just specifying 'employees' as a group, take your organisational structure into account and chose a level of granularity: for example by "rank" (senior management, middle management, supervisors, shop floor, etc) or division and type of employee/contractor (eg development department > project managers, employed developers, contract developers). Needless to say, the higher the level of granularity the more detailed the data you will get back. It all depends how much time and resource you have to put into it, especially time - you can usually find workarounds (or just work harder!) to obstacles of cost, especially when conducting the survey online - including conducting telephone interviews yourself using the same online system.

To help, the main groups/types of stakeholders are listed below - think about and document who in each category you will approach:

  • Customers: ALL sizes/types
  • Employees: division/department, seniority, etc
  • Shareholders/investors/owners: institutional investors, private shareholders
    • in the case of non-profits, trade associations and other types of organisation, read founders, backers, members, etc
  • Suppliers/trading partners: corporate partners - not just those with purchasing links but all who have a relationship with the company
  • Community and the environment: representatives, eg local councillors, community groups, environmental groups, etc
  • The State: more difficult to include in a stakeholder survey as such but a good relationship with national governments and supra-national trading blocks (eg the EU) is clearly necessary and needs monitoring too

Issues to cover in a Stakeholder Survey

We recommend covering the following in your stakeholder survey, based on our Golden Rules of good corporate governance:

1. Ethics
Corporate social responsibility - does the company behave responsibly towards all its stakeholders? Particularly:

  • environmental/human rights issues
  • support for local community/society in general
  • honesty/transparency
  • fair treatment of staff
  • responsibility regarding pensions/consideration of pensioners
  • etc.
2. Goal
Congruence of goals - does the company’s goal reflect the expectations of all the stakeholders? Particularly,

  • what do stakeholders want from your organisation?
  • what would they expect from a leading player in your industry sector?
  • what will be needed for the future?
3. Organisation
Structure - does it protect the interests of its various stakeholders and have open channels of communication with them? Particularly:

  • management style and culture
  • operational effectiveness and efficiency
  • accountability
4. Reporting
Information - is there information being passed through these channels which is sufficient and accurate enough to satisfy all the stakeholders? Particularly:

  • transparency
  • do they want to know more about the company’s activities?
    • trading results
    • community projects/activities
    • donations (political/charitable)
    • future plans
    • etc.

When conducting the stakeholder survey, there will be difficulties in transposing these four elements into concepts readily understandable by the stakeholders, especially those with a lower level of interest or involvement in the running of the business, so proxies will need to be assumed to obtain the information required using more familiar content and language. These will need to be based on physical evidence: Ethics, for example, could be represented by the placement of recycling points on company premises to encourage recycling, staff who are friendly and responsive (giving an impression that the company looks after its staff), and support for charities, say, by encouraging fund raising schemes. For Organisation, we can find out stakeholders’ perceptions of operational efficiency and effectiveness, such as prompt delivery of goods or good working conditions, but we can also probe for opinions on communication, since this is fundamental to corporate governance: eg

  • how frequent, and one or two way communication
  • availability of ways of expressing views as stakeholders, for example
    • customer service
    • staff consultation meetings
  • how important are these to stakeholders?

Examples of stakeholder survey questions

Below are some examples of questions you can use to create your stakeholder survey. You will need to adjust some of these for each stakeholder group and, of course for your industry and/or type of organisation. For demonstration purposes, these examples are based on a real life retailing client for whom we conducted a full stakeholder analysis.

Ethics:

  1. How would you define "ethical behaviour"?
  2. To what extent do you view ___ as an ethical retailer?
  3. Do you have any particular views on ___'s ethical conduct?
  4. Do you feel ___ is completely open about its activities?
  5. Have you ever been into an ___ store?
  6. If yes - what was your impression of it?
  7. In particular, did/do you get the impression that the staff are happy in their work?
  8. What are your impressions of ___ stores generally?
  9. Do you get the impression that the staff are happy in their work?
  10. How much do you feel ___ is committed to the local community?
  11. Overall, how responsible do you think ___ is towards all its stakeholders?

Organisation/communication:

  1. Do you think ___ has clear goals?
  2. Do you feel there is sufficient contact between ___ and its stakeholders?
  3. Personally, do you feel ___ tries to have good and regular communication with you?
  4. Is it important for you to have open communication?
  5. Are you satisfied with current channels? In particular - Is is easy to consult ___ on particular issues or make your feelings known to the board?
  6. Are your queries dealt with positively and efficiently?
  7. Do you feel every effort is made to satisfy your needs (or at least provide reasonable grounds for not following up particular requests)?
  8. Do you think the company has good, strong, leadership?
  9. Do you feel the company is well and efficiently run?

Reporting (information):

  1. How much do you know about ___ as a company?
  2. Is it enough, or would you like to know more?
  3. Do you know about the events/activities organised by the society?
  4. Do you know about projects to support the local community?
  5. Are you informed of political and charitable donations? And other information, e.g. financial?
  6. Are you aware, or made aware of the company's goals? Are they clearly communicated?
  7. How important is it for you to know all these things?

Goals:

We place this last as this is a bit different and a chance for your stakeholders to actually tell you what they would like your organisation to deliver and how they think you are performing - below is a preamble/explanation to the respondent, which would be followed by free text areas for people to write short statements and then score each:

Generally, what do you want from ___ ? What do you want ___ to do for you? Try to narrow down your expectations to five to eight statements. When you are happy with your statements, give ___ a score of 1-10 on each one, as it is currently performing, where 1 is bad and 10 is excellent.


You will clearly get a range of views from the different stakeholders, which you will need to weight to reflect how important each group (realistically you cannot give one person the same weight as a thousand other employees or customers) is but at least you have collected wide feedback and your stakeholders have a chance to give you their views. What you are after is consensus, after consulting widely. Often just the chance to sound off and feel that their voice is being heard is all that people are looking for and can head off problems before they arise.

We hope you find this guide to conducting a stakeholder survey useful. Please browse the rest of the site to learn more about our unique approach to practical and measurable corporate governance, responsible business and sound management which is designed to deliver tangible benefits whatever the size or type of organisation.


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