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Stakeholder Intelligence is Crucial for the Long Term Success of South African Companies

Blog
05/06/2014
Anneke Greyling

We recently held our first roundtable event in South Africa where attendees from a mix of industries including extractives, food & beverage, forestry, healthcare, financial services, tobacco, telecommunications and IT came together to discuss  stakeholder engagement and its place in the South African market.

GlobeScan’s South African representative Anneke Greyling, presented new research findings on the current state of stakeholder engagement in South Africa which showed that the landscape is clearly changing but it is questionable whether corporates are adapting fast enough.

The study revealed that stakeholder engagement remains a relatively nebulous concept in South Africa, though there is a growing awareness that it is crucial for the long-term success of companies in a post-Marikana South Africa. The Marikana incident is recognised as a tipping point for the relationship between business and society. Affected communities are demanding more of a voice and consumers have discovered their ‘nuisance power’ and are increasingly willing and able to exercise it.

The challenges ahead relate to accommodating the redefinition of this relationship and developing new frameworks and modes of engagement. It is also vital, for stakeholder engagement to be successful and meaningful rather than a reactive compliance led box-ticking exercise, and that it be continuous and proactive.

Internal fragmentation and silo-ing represents a challenge requiring a degree of critical reassessment to ensure a consistent and successful policy. Responsibility for stakeholder engagement is often delegated to corporate affairs or departments responsible for relationships with the individual stakeholder groups, but in order to be a meaningful exercise it should ideally sit at CEO level and permeate strategically throughout the organisation with employees as de facto ambassadors.

Building upon this contextual foundation, Christophe Guibeleguiet, GlobeScan Co-CEO, addressed the broader trends taking place in the world that are driving the redefinition of the relationship between society, business and stakeholders namely a decline in trust in global companies. Christophe went on to highlight that in  an increasingly complex and volatile stakeholder universe and a rise in new forms of consumer activism known as  the ‘Aspirational’ is a pro-consumption affluent societal segment driven by purchasing with a purpose, not just in developed markets but across the globe.

All this creates new demands on leadership to be driven by vision and strategy rather than simply communication and with a view to co-creating and developing shared goals with stakeholders rather than simply listening to their views. Through this process, both internal and external stakeholders can be galvanised and mobilised around common purposes, delivering returns in the form of brand, reputation, talent and business equity – known as the virtuous cycle.

Tshepo Ramodibe, Vodacom’s Executive Head of Stakeholder and Reputation Management, presented on the application of strategic tools for stakeholder engagement and how this can be integrated internally, measured and evolved.

The roundtable discussion revealed a number of common experiences around internal fragmentation and the difficulty faced in aligning different functions around a streamlined stakeholder engagement strategy. It can be a hard sell to an executive committee when it is not always easy to predict and measure the returns accurately. This issue is not just reflected internally, sometimes it can be difficult to communicate the value of engagement to stakeholders themselves – this has been an issue for the South African government.

Many corporates face severe trust issues, particularly among government stakeholders – it should be remembered that in South Africa the relationship between business and government has not always been easy since the democratic transition. Add to that the rapidly changing dynamics in community-business relations and it makes the task of coordination a serious challenge.

While there are a great many challenges bearing down on business in this market, there is some reassurance to be found in common experience, which itself speaks to the need for greater communication across platforms, functions, companies and their stakeholders to develop the most effective and equitable way forward.

GlobeScan’s South African team are excited to work with leadership organisations to find innovative solutions to the challenges ahead in this changing landscape. For more information, please contact us at the details below.

Johannesburg skyline picture courtesy of Flickr user Arthur Spring

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