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Anticipating the potential in stakeholder dialogues at an early stage and following a step-by-step guide can lead to successful shared value creation. The trend towards cross-sector collaboration and stakeholder dialogues is clear.
Management strategists around the world are wondering whether we are moving towards a convergence of values and asking whether shared value creation expanding the total pool of social and economic value will become the norm?
So, how can stakeholders be engaged to make CSR meaningful? The underlying idea is that partnerships between businesses and other sectors can drive sustainable development. Visionary companies are tapping into these trends and understand the interdependence between societal and company performance on the global scale.
The recently awakened have noticed that stakeholder cooperation can improve business performance. Even the late adapters realise that not keeping good relationships with stakeholders can have a damaging effect, not just on reputation but also on actual project results.
However, to many companies the nagging question remains: There can be misunderstandings and pitfalls in stakeholder engagement and we need to filter out what works and what does not.
In my experience, there is a set of common shortcomings in the private sector when it comes to external stakeholder engagement. Firstly, there is a lack of skills. Stakeholder engagement requires a new set of skills within companies to engage with the world beyond.
Understanding the perspective of external stakeholders is not something taught in leadership development programmes. Companies tend to lack strategy.
They do not consider stakeholder engagement as part of day to day operations in their core business. They subsequently delegate it to the CSR or communications department, under-utilising its tremendous potential or even risking damages to their reputation.
Many companies also suffer from a lack of focus when engaging stakeholders, failing to define when and why and what for. A CSR manager from a large German bank recently told me: Stakeholders are often involved inappropriately, without focus and without the adequate processes.
But there is an increasing tendency for companies to do what good governments already do: Stakeholder engagement can work and create shared value. Defining a practical approach At the Collective Leadership Institute we have found that, apart from understanding the stakeholder landscape in general, companies' stakeholder engagement needs to be: Depending on the issue, a company needs to define whether stakeholder engagement is consultative where the final decision on how to move on lies with the company or cooperative where the company is prepared to take joint action.
An issue can also start with a consultation and then become a cooperation project. Companies need to distinguish company-specific stakeholder engagement "we engage with 'our' stakeholder" from sector-wide stakeholder engagement "in order to have an impact on an issue we have joined an initiative — for sustainable coffee, living wages in Asia, African cashew processing — and this benefits the issue AND our core business".
Companies need to understand why they are engaging.
This is the approach taken by Danone with its base of the pyramid model. Again, there are very few companies engaging for strategic purposes, although Unilever has made some strides. I am convinced that high quality stakeholder engagement can serve the world and business. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox Topics.A letter of invitation, or invitation letter, is a key business marketing letter that is typically used to invite clients or customers to participate in special business events.
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