Building Effective Stakeholder Intelligence and Engagement Strategies

Last month, GlobeScan held its second annual roundtable discussion on stakeholder engagement in Johannesburg. Corporate Affairs, Stakeholder and Government Relations leaders at a number of leading South African companies attended the workshop. A good cross-section of industry sectors was present which made for a lively and very informative discussion.
Anneke Greyling, GlobeScan’s Country Director for South Africa, opened proceedings with a discussion of the business case for stakeholder engagement and some of the challenges companies commonly face in building an effective stakeholder engagement framework.
In our investigation of the South African market and elsewhere, we have found many of the most common challenges in crafting a successful stakeholder engagement program relate to the difficulty of integrating the various aspects into a consistent, proactive, well-articulated and holistic program. As a function, stakeholder engagement often amounts more to management than true open, transparent and multi-directional engagement, and it more often than not takes place within a siloed environment. In order to be successful, this requires an appropriate structure along with monitoring and integration processes. In order to bring these various elements together, inform design and diagnose shortcomings, GlobeScan has identified seven features that a company should have in place in order to pursue a successful stakeholder engagement program.
By monitoring and assessing these aspects, a company can guide the formulation and implementation of a successful program.
GlobeScan Co-CEO Christophe Guibeleguiet followed this up with an examination of global best practice and examples of how these features have been implemented to varying degrees of success. The crucial initial starting point for companies is to understand that stakeholder engagement is inherently about trust and, more specifically, the deeper level of “thick trust” that characterises dynamic and supportive stakeholder networks. It is from this position that we can understand how so many companies miss opportunities for effective stakeholder engagement; it is not simply blanket interaction with stakeholders employing a one-size-fits-all approach and is certainly not about bringing stakeholders around to your way of thinking. Rather, it is about a mutually supportive and value-creating relationship for both stakeholders and the company; this is what it means to have truly strategic stakeholder engagement in this context.
To this end, Christophe identified five focal points, often challenging areas, where leadership companies can distinguish themselves in regard to strategic stakeholder engagement; intelligence, transparency, internal engagement and dialogue, with corporate purpose as the centre piece.
Corporate purpose, as distinct from a mission statement, is a declaration of what a company stands for beyond its immediate business goals; balancing financial goals, long-term value, identity and aspirations of an organisation. Companies such as BT and Unilever have distinguished themselves as leaders on this, unifying their product offering with a corporate purpose at the level of society which has created a consistent and coherent story as well as a recognisable philosophy in their engagements.
Intelligence and internal alignment are closely interrelated and speak to the internal and external aspects of the process of consistently socialising corporate purpose and a stakeholder engagement ethos both within the organisation and in the broader stakeholder universe. Both are very challenging and frequently result in setbacks for companies, particularly those operating globally but with a specific geographical or cultural identity. Before a clear story can be articulated externally, it must start with internal alignment. To be successful in this regard, stakeholder engagement must not be the sole domain of the corporate affairs team but be socialised internally toward an enterprise-wide culture of stakeholder engagement. SABMiller, despite operating across multiple regions, all with culturally distinct attitudes toward their products, have been very successful in this regard by ensuring alignment through regular communication between the group and local subsidiaries bolstered by metrics and issues management.
GlobeScan is continuing to work closely with a number of leading companies in South Africa and Africa to gear up impact of stakeholder engagement by ensuring that corporates are effective and innovative in their stakeholder programmes.