The continent of Africa is a rich source of wisdom about humanity.
This I learnt on a visit to South Africa – a country with a diverse and historic mosaic of voices, culture and peoples – for a meeting of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) in April 2012.
Our guest the Premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, spoke of ‘Ubuntu’, an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.
My thinking since has been that ‘who’ we are is partly defined by the people in our lives. So, together with experiences and learning, time with family, friends and colleagues shape our being.
As with people, the identity of an organisation is influenced by the people around it: staff, customers and partners; together with those who lay claim to a ‘stake’ in the organisation.
We call these individuals and groups ‘stakeholders’.
Maintaining positive and productive relationships with stakeholders – whether you choose them or they choose you — is essential. These people have the power to get you where you want to be.
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 people, increases efficiency and improves business outcomes.
So, what are the principles for effective stakeholder engagement?
- The first rule of engagement is to ‘listen’, make no assumptions about who cares about your organisation, and their reasons why.
- 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.
- 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.
- Try to make promises to people and groups that meet their expectations, and don’t promise things you can’t deliver.
- 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 you live by, please let me know.
One last thing, think carefully about the stakeholders you engage.
In the immortal words of American inventor, statesman, publisher Benjamin Franklin (another source of wisdom): “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”
It pretty much means “We should be cautious of the company we keep”.
Other than being seen to do the wrong thing, nothing hurts a corporate reputation faster than being seen engaging the ‘wrong’ people. However, that’s a conversation for another time…