Africa is a rich source of wisdom about humanity and as it turns out, stakeholder engagement.
It was South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who popularised the ancient African word, Ubuntu. The word means ‘humanity to others’ or putting it another way,
‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.
My thinking since has been that who we are can be measured by the calibre of people we keep in our lives. Together with our life experiences and learning; our families, friends and colleagues define us.
As with people, the identity and character of an organisation is shaped by the people connected to it; an ecosystem of workers, suppliers, partners and customers, who, together, have a stake in the organisation.
For the sake of convenience we describe these people as stakeholders.Stakeholders have been defined as “individuals or organisations who stand to gain or lose from the success or failure of a system".
Why stakeholders are worth attention
Maintaining positive and productive relationships with stakeholders – whether you choose them or they choose you — is essential. These people and groups have the power to get you to where you want to be.
However, when neglected they also have the uncanny knack of slowing you down, too.
This is why stakeholder engagement is an important function for an organisation. When done well it enhances reputation, empowers workers, boosts efficiency and improves organisational outcomes.
The principles for engaging stakeholders
So, what are the principles for effective stakeholder engagement?
Well, here’s a few, based on our 25 years’ experience, for starters:
1. The first rule of engagement is to ‘listen’, make no assumptions about who cares about your organisation, and their reasons why;
2. You can’t be all things to all people, once you know who cares about you, map and rank their ‘influence’ on your organisation’s goals;
3. Sharing experiences is essential for building and sustaining a human bond, once you work out what you have in common, do something about it together;
4. Try to make promises to people and groups that meet their expectations, and don’t promise things you can’t deliver; and
5. Take time to measure the results: use tools that evaluate ‘needs met’, net promoter scores, relationship health, sales growth, regulatory burdens.
If there are principles of engagement that your organisation lives by, please let me know.
Warning: beware the company you keep
One last thing, think carefully about the stakeholders you engage via community partnerships, company ambassadors, corporate sponsorships and joint-ventures – those relationships most visible to others.
In the immortal words of the late American inventor, statesman and publisher Benjamin Franklin (a source of wisdom from another continent):
“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”
It pretty much means “We should be careful of the company we keep”. Other than being seen to do the wrong thing, nothing can hurt a reputation more than being seen in the company of the ‘wrong’ people.
So, when is the last time you thought about the good and bad in your stakeholders?