A Road Map to Meaningful Engagement

By Neil Jeffery, Doughty Centre, Cranfield School of Management

A Road Map to Meaningful Engagement

This guide aims to provide you with an understanding of, and practical tips for, successful stakeholder engagement. We focus particularly on engaging communities, NGOs and wider civil society. It is written by a Doughty Centre Associate Neil Jeffery who has had extensive experience as an NGO campaigner and director; and more recently, as an adviser to a number of Fortune 500 corporations on engaging stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement is relevant to any type of organisation: business, public or civil society. It is particularly important in the context of running an organisation responsibly and is integral to the concept of Corporate Responsibility. An organisation cannot be serious about Corporate Responsibility unless it is serious about stakeholder engagement–and vice versa. Stakeholder engagement is crucially different to stakeholder- management: stakeholder engagement implies a willingness to listen; to discuss issues of interest to stakeholders of the organisation; and, critically, the organisation has to be prepared to consider changing what it aims to achieve and how it operates, as a result of stakeholder engagement.

Some critics of Corporate Responsibility misinterpret the idea, believing that it means that an organisation surrenders to NGOs or community activists; it should mean no such thing.The leadership of the organisation still needs to set the direction for the growth of the organisation, but does so in the knowledge of stakeholders’ wants and needs (SWANS) as well as the organisation’s wants and needs (OWANS)–see Understanding stakeholders (3.2).

Successful management thus becomes the art of optimising long- term benefits for the organisation based on reconciling sometimes disparate stakeholders’ wants and needs (investors, employees,customers,suppliers etc.). Organisations are constantly interacting with stakeholders, some of whom will be more or less positively or negatively disposed to the organisation and will have greater or lesser power over the organisation–see Segmenting stakeholders (3.2).

Organisations have long recognised that employees at all levels need negotiating skills; stakeholder engagement significantly recasts these skills, extending considerably the range of organisations and individuals that an organisation needs to negotiate with, and re-emphasising that the most successful negotiations are those that produce satisfaction for all parties over the long term–for critical success factors for stakeholder engagement see Section4–Towards Meaningful Engagement. If Corporate Responsibility is about minimising negative and maximising positive environmental and social impacts, then stakeholder engagement is one of the core skills and key activities which enables this to happen successfully and effectively.

A parallel How-to guide from the Doughty Centre looks at engaging Corporate Responsibility champions within organisations to engage employees. Future publications will cover engaging investors on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability; and how organisations can engage their supply chain. With external partners we have recently produced a think-piece on the future of the Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability function; and with other partners, we will shortly issue a piece on communicating Sustainability.

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