A critical step for success in the case interview is identifying and qualifying stakeholders. As a consultant, you must quickly assess and evaluate your environment. Knowing who the decision-makers, the influencers, and the impacted are can help you evaluate your options, risks, and consider the reactions of those with a vested interest in the project.
Framework for Evaluation:
Porter’s Five Forces is one of the most common frameworks for evaluating an organization’s competitive environment. This framework can help you to identify and qualify key stakeholders and determine how attractive an industry or recommendation may be, as well as consider mitigation strategies to overcome obstacles. This framework enables you to outline: (1) key competitors, (2) the industry structure and/or regulatory climate and the subsequent strength of barriers to new competitors considering entry into the market, (3) the suppliers who provide products or services contributing to a good and their ability to influence the market, (4) the customers and their alternatives, and (5) substitute goods and services that can provide alternatives to customers. This tool allows you to evaluate which levers you may be able to pull and where threats and opportunities are most likely.
Once you gain an understanding of the environment, you can qualify key stakeholders.
A Stakeholder Register is an effective tool that allows you to identify and qualify stakeholders. This common project management tool is a simple table where you describe the stakeholder, list their perceived agenda or motivation (their needs and wants), and rank them on a 1-5 scale with 1 being low and 5 being high in terms of power and interest. Power is their ability to influence, or their level of authority on a project. Interest is how closely involved a stakeholder is in the project. For instance, someone who is has high power and low interest may be a “sleeping giant” who you will have to monitor should they become more willing to exert their power.
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Decision-Makers: Manage Closely
Failure to identify a critical decision-maker can lead to re-work, increase the likelihood and severity of risks, or ultimately lead to untenable recommendations. For commercial cases likely decision-makers will include the company’s Board of Directors and President/CEO. For public sector cases, key decision-makers could be the Executive or Legislative branches of government who mandate an action or the agency Director. For nonprofit cases, key decision-makers could include the Board of Directors or Executive Director. Your strategy may vary depending on their interest level.
Influencers: Consider Role
Influencers are stakeholders who may be able to shift a decision, sway someone with authority, or mobilize a group. The media has the potential to escalate issues or put pressure on decision-makers. Government watchdogs like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or Office of the Inspector General (OIG) write reports that can pressure government agencies to follow their recommendations. Nonprofit rating agencies like Guidestar or Charity Navigator can put out metrics, evaluations, and best practices that can influence where donors give or how nonprofits manage their mission and operations.
Those impacted can quickly become evangelists and advocates or opponents and adversaries when mobilized. Shareholders, customers, beneficiaries, employees, and constituents are often the stakeholders in this group. These groups are often at the epicenter of projects and case interviews and how they are impacted will be core to the recommendation.
While case interviews may assess your critical thinking, analytical skills, and structure, people will be a key component to the case. Considering qualitative aspects such as stakeholders, their drivers and motivations, and their role in the case can help you show that you are taking a holistic view of the environment, considering opportunities and risks, and taking into account the human element in your recommendations.