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Once you've delineated the stakeholder groups upon whom your company's success and reputation rely, turn your attention to constructing an Issue Management Plan (IMP) whose six elements address those groups. It's not unusual to discover that you've left out some groups in your initial classification of stakeholders, so be prepared to add them as you construct an initial or draft IMP.

To be effective, an Issue Management Plan should do the following.

DEFINE "ISSUE"

First, discuss and describe the events or circumstances that constitute an issue, any gap between the actions of a team, department, division, or company's actions and the expectations of a stakeholder group.

Be aware that a clear hierarchy exists, each level of which generates various levels of participation and authority. All issues are not born the same, nor do they live their lives the same way. Some issues are single event; others run the life of a product, program, or initiative. Update the IMP as new issues emerge.

STRUCTURE THE PROCESS

Create a workable process through which potential issues are identified, screened, and analyzed, and make it a part of everyday work life. Build into your structure the means through which Issue Management will receive adequate attention.

The process you form must incorporate a discrete set of actions to be taken once an issue becomes active. Include designations of ownership and participation.

INCLUDE COLLABORATION

An effective IMP sets out lines of collaboration, expectations of who will be talking to whom about issues of a particular sort or that affect certain stakeholders. While it may be owned by one person within one function, an issue should always be discussed cross-functionally and provide clear indication of when it needs to be elevated to become part of managerial strategic discussion.

INTEGRATE COMMUNICATION

The Issue Management Plan must also integrate communication needs and obligations. Those who need to know that an issue exists or has become active will often include management. Corporate Communicators should be specified in the IMP and held to their obligation.

NAME OPTIONS FOR ACTION

For each issue or potential issue identified, isolate specific actions that will resolve it. Some actions may be relatively small and simple, a letter of clarification or explanation. Others are likely to be larger or complex—changing a policy, revamping a product, creating educational programs. Brainstorm acceptable options (and perhaps less pleasant ones) and make them a part of the IMP.

ASSESS

Once an issue has entered the process, assess its ultimate resolution. If it's ongoing, as many will be, periodically assess progress and management. The point of assessment is improvement, so refine the parts of the IMP that do not facilitate the smooth handling and resolving of identified issues.

An Issue Management Plan can be devised for both internal and external issues and stakeholders; it can extend across a team, department, division, or company. In many cases, segments of an organization design an IMP to address issues as a whole or for a specific project or initiative. In some cases, an IMP is top/down. In others, it begins at the operational level. Making such decisions—and who makes them—is a topic for another Speak Previews®.