Stakeholder engagement is as old as business itself. It happens in your company’s countless daily interactions with customers, employees, suppliers, investors, regulators and others. What has changed in the past decade or so is that many companies have begun taking a systematic approach to this engagement as they seek to manage their sustainability risks. They have identified key stakeholder groups and the issues that concern them, and are actively managing dialogue with these groups.
So far, so good. In reality, however, the process is often tightly controlled and the outputs carefully communicated. Many companies invite stakeholders to attend occasional managed events or one-to-one discussions. Typically, these involve a presentation from both sides and a discussion of external expectations and internal constraints (and sometimes opportunities). In essence, this is a defensive tactic. It can backfire when consequent action – or lack of it – ends up eroding rather than building stakeholder relationships.
Thankfully, that is starting to change.