Before we talk about engaging stakeholders, it is vital to understand who and what they are. The business dictionary describes stakeholders as “a person, group or organisation that has an interest or concern in an organisation.
Margareth Gustavo, Managing Director, Cornerstone Joe Public Consultants (Pty) Ltd, www.cornerstone.com.na
In our previous article (see article on www.cornerstone.com.na) we talked about the importance of reputation management and determined that one way of managing reputation is through effective stakeholder engagement.
Engage Your Stakeholders
Before we talk about engaging stakeholders, it is vital to understand who and what they are. The business dictionary describes stakeholders as “a person, group or organisation that has an interest or concern in an organisation. They can affect or be affected by the organisations actions, objectives and policies”.
The definition to me proves that there is a need for company’s to mitigate a risk, through engaging stakeholders.
Stakeholder engagement is a skill used to run a business responsibly, and it is essential to corporate responsibility. Engaging stakeholders, requires the business to be prepared and committed to actively listening, talking to and learning from the ‘community’ that it operates in and from.
Stakeholder engagement is as intentional as getting to know people, to make friends. It is as serious as having friends that understand us, encourage us and have our best interest at heart.
Businesses have different stakeholders, some invest in the business, others share information with the business, others buy from the business, talk about the business to their friends and businesses have relationships with them for the purposes of building the company.
Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, your business is interacting with stakeholders in one way or another. This interaction exerts some form of influence over the organisation, which can be positive or negative. The best way to manage the influence is to understand what the influence is, through engaging the very people or organisations that can affect your business.
Why and how does your company do this?
Do you want your child to wash the dishes? Communication is an essential ingredient to getting the dishes done – isn’t it? Same with business, is that not the reason we train employees, we share the company goals and we agree on how they can contribute to achieving those same goals? We do this to get things done – to build shareholder value and make profit.
Choose to engage stakeholders sooner rather than later and determine upfront how you plan to meaningfully engage them. Importantly, the steering of this process must lie with the leadership team of the company.
I get it, but how do I do it Margareth? Get to the point… If you haven’t done this process before, I trust that this article will give you a very simple way of engaging your company stakeholders.
Stakeholder engagement starts with firstly identifying who your company’s stakeholders are. These should include internal and external stakeholders.
Once stakeholders are identified conduct a mini stakeholder audit. What normally would transpire from such an audit is an understanding of the stakeholders and their perceptions of your company. It basically gives you a reality check.
Using the audit information, think about what the company wants to be perceived as, based on the brand and company values, to name a few. Then develop a stakeholder engagement strategy and plan that will help you engage with the stakeholders. Make sure your strategy includes objectives – be clear on what you want to achieve through this process.
Then develop a communications strategy and plan. This includes, key messages for each stakeholder group and communication mediums you will use to communicate and engage them. A piece of advice: Consider the barriers that will keep you from communicating effectively and have a plan on how to handle them.
Finally, implement your plan and decide up front how you will measure your interactions and relationships with stakeholders.
It is as easy as that!
VERY IMPORTANT! Be committed to the process. There really is no point in pretending to be talking to your stakeholders, using resources and remaining distant. As in brand building, people pick up on what is fake and sincere.
Don’t be afraid, the ultimate decision still lies with you and your leadership team on what you will do with the information received through engagement.
But the process is so worth it. I’ve heard how many a company has stumbled upon innovative ideas and business opportunities from engaging stakeholders effectively. As you seek to understand stakeholder viewpoints and motivations, your company stands a better chance of understanding the internal and external markets for competitive advantage, you build a good reputation and you add value to your brand.
Cornerstone Joe Public Consultants (Pty) Ltd is a strategic brand and communications strategy firm, offering services especially in the areas of brand and communications strategy development and execution. Email: email@example.com or visit www.cornerstone.com.na