How GCs can Align Executive Stakeholders for Information Governance Projects

By Nick Inglis

While General Counsels traditionally have been tasked with Corporate Governance, that historically didn’t include anything in the field of Information Governance.

But with information challenges increasingly lying at the convergence of privacy, security, and governance, these projects are now more frequently finding their way to GCs and CLOs for leadership, turning Information Governance into more of an organizational discipline.

As these types of information-forward projects can be new for legal leaders, there are two specific areas that GC and CLOs should focus onto ensure success:

  • alignment of stakeholders
  • proper project prioritization

Identifying and prioritizing stakeholders

There is no shortage of stakeholders in information projects. Information, like water, flows through an organization – from ingestion (whether it’s firm or corporate information, client information, or even personnel information) to eventual deletion or disposition.

Along that information lifecycle, those information flows pick up stakeholders. So, to identify stakeholders in information projects, you have to follow the flow of information in the organization.

While there are many ways of approaching stakeholder alignment, we can easily prioritize stakeholder engagement with a couple of simple tools. Stakeholder engagement, when prioritized successfully, allows you to manage your time and efforts with various stakeholders, ensuring your most critical stakeholders are your strongest supporters.

I find this is your best way to ensure stakeholder alignment is to ensure that the most vital stakeholders are the most and best aligned. 

Simple Tools, Smart Stakeholder Engagement

I use some simple tools to prioritize my engagement model with stakeholders in information projects visually – I’ve found some GC/CLOs can do this in their heads. Still, the better ones tend to be more intentional. This process will vary a bit on whether you’re revamping an essential information-related process, whether you’re doing a privacy assessment, or whether you’re involved in an information system replacement. Still, the overall model for stakeholder alignment that I like to use can work in any of these typical information-related projects

Here is my list of tools for stakeholder engagement:

  • Information lifecycle (I like the one I created that lives with ARMA International, see below)
  • Spreadsheet tool of your choice (Excel, Google Spreadsheets, Apple Numbers, Smartsheets, whatever your Spreadsheet tool is)

Using an information lifecycle divided into stages helps ensure you don’t leave out any stakeholders or stakeholder perspectives.

Here’s how I set up my spreadsheet:

  1. I set up the stages in my information lifecycle. In the ARMA Information Lifecycle model, those stages are:
  • Capture
  • Collaboration
  • Version Control
  • Retention / Storage
  • Holds / Discovery
  • Disposition / Archiving
  1. I start listing my stakeholders as I think about each of the stages the information passes through (sometimes you’ll need to talk to folks for areas where you may be less familiar with the process or system)
  1. I prioritize the impact of each stakeholder on the project by simply roughly estimating their engagement across a few measures (personal project impact [PPI], fear/comfort [FC], community impact [CI]) taking an average, and mapping to a scale:
  • Unaware
  • Averse
  • Neutral
  • Supportive
  • Evangelist

I use personal project impact (I prefer this language to the “what’s in it for me” language) as a measure of how much a stakeholder should care about a project. A fear/comfort scale helps identify potential project detractors. It measures how likely someone is to intrinsically support a given project (I use a 5-point scale where fully fearful is 1, 3 is neutral, and 5 is fully comfortable).

Lastly, I use community impact – and I define this pretty loosely because it might mean something different to each stakeholder. A stakeholder’s community could be their team, maybe direct reports, possibly, it’s a whole division. It could also be a community that exists outside the org chart – it could be a group of work friends, a committee, or any formal or informal type of group.

You could apply weighting to those three categories, but I’ve found that simply taking an average of the scores in most scenarios works well in guiding decisions. This relative ranking can help determine your project approaches, build any working groups (pairing the unaware or averse with your most positive stakeholders), and develop your stakeholder engagement plan. It’s not the most precise tool, but I’ve found it helpful and straightforward for stakeholder engagement.

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