One of the challenges in running a business is motivating stakeholders to do what you want them to do. Whether it’s a critical investor, a team of employees or a key customer, you have to be able to convince stakeholders that your business is worth supporting. Motivation often comes down to knowing your audience, having a plan and communicating your desires clearly in a way that makes it easy for stakeholders to support you.

Know Your Stakeholders

The first step in motivating stakeholders is to know who they are. If you have a project charter, that’s a starting point, but note that other stakeholders have likely emerged and need documentation. For each stakeholder, record her potential impact and what is likely to influence her. A stakeholder who contributed money to your business is likely to be concerned with profitability, for example. An employee stakeholder may be influenced by job security. Customers want quality and value. Knowing who stakeholders are and what they want makes it easier for you to make your pitch.


Stakeholders are unlikely to be motivated if they don’t know what’s going on. They also are likely to have their own visions of how things are going and what the finish line looks like, no matter how clear you think you have made your own objectives. Asking them what their expectations are and clarifying them as necessary keeps everyone on the same page and ensures that stakeholders are motivated to work with you rather than on their own agenda.

Tailor Your Messages

Tailor your messaging to meet the needs of the targeted individual or stakeholder group. A board of directors, for example, may want regular information on high-level trends. Potential investors want data on potential profits. Large corporations or government clients may be more motivated by fear of risk. Don’t neglect those stakeholders lower in the hierarchy: Employees are likely to want to know how various measures affect their job security. If they are kept in the dark, they will be harder to motivate, because they may be worrying unnecessarily instead of focusing on their work.

Be Specific

Know what you want your stakeholders to do and how you want them to do it. Many times, business owners are better at building their case for action than securing the follow-through. If you find that your board of directors is usually eager to express its support in emails but not in concrete action, or you learn that the number of customers downloading a form on your website to get a free estimate is increasing but the number actually sending it back is unchanged, you probably aren’t giving either group enough specifics about what you want from them.

Plan Ahead

If you know who your shareholders are and what influences them, you can anticipate likely points of conflict. If a stakeholder is a technical expert in one software process and you’re choosing a different one to meet your needs, you have to be prepared for resistance and armed with a strong defense of your decision. Be proactive in letting stakeholders know that while you may not be acting as they would like, you appreciate their concerns and are keeping them in mind.