Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Stakeholder engagement: why it’s important

Among the many (often conveniently nebulous) buzzwords we come across in our daily corporate lives is “stakeholder engagement”. Everybody wants it. It’s certainly a topline favourite in any communications, PR or marketing plan.

It’s also an essential requirement for any organisation aiming to build sustainability.

As Dr Leeora Black, from the Australian Centre of Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR), explained in an excellent master class she delivered at last week’s Australian Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Conference, a stakeholder is any individual or organisation which can affect, or be affected by, your organisation’s activities.

To achieve most major organisational goals, be it sustainability or anything else, you need your stakeholders on board: understanding where you’re going, seeing the point of it all (what’s in it for them? Or others? Or both?) and knowing what (if any) their role is in getting there. In other words, you need your stakeholders engaged.

That doesn’t mean they have to think you’re right. But it does mean having them aligned and supportive of the journey.

Why? Because the reality is that many of the issues business and other organisations are facing are simply too large, too complex, with too many interdependencies to be managed alone. 

So, where to start?

First, look at the issue: who it affects and how, the desired solution and what’s involved in developing and delivering it. Because some problems can be resolved without engaging stakeholders. Don’t waste time and effort by defaulting to seeking buy-in and input from the world if it’s not necessary.

If that’s not the case – and sometimes it isn’t – then move to step two: identifying your stakeholders. Sounds obvious, right?  But stakeholders can be hidden. Are there activities your organisation undertakes that affect others in ways you’re not aware of? Ask: who else shares your interest in the issue? You may be surprised.

Conversely, are there groups which may have been considered “stakeholders” who, on closer examination, are not? Sometimes, empty vessels do make the most noise.

Next step is to prioritise those stakeholders. For our purposes – that is, to effect change or manage an issue – that’s not just about identifying who is most affected. Those most affected may be passive or already well aligned with your direction.

Prioritising stakeholders is also very much about identifying which groups are the most organised and united around the issue, and which have the closest relationships with other interested parties. They are the ones most likely to be able to influence outcomes – one way or the other.

And if it’s going to be your way, your next move is using effective stakeholder communication to promote collaboration, build relationships and find the common ground you need to achieve your goals. Which is a story for another day.

Guest post from Kaitlin Walsh, Director of Media & Content at BlueChip Communication

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