When it comes to stakeholder engagement, let it flow

Let's say you have developed a beautiful sustainability strategy for your business, and it's ready to go. Followers of this Homera Blog may have designed that strategy as per the five building blocks of our Holistic Value Chain (HVC) Toolkit. (Good for you!)

So what now? How do you go from plan to execution? This is where you have to engage your stakeholders. ALL of them. And that's why this is the fifth building block we present.

You see, a sustainability strategy built around Circularity, Innovation, Resilience and Context (the first four) produces optimal outcomes only when it is cascaded across your entire organization and value chain. Every aspect of it. That's why we call it Holistic.

And that can only happen when you engage, truly engage, the stakeholders involved every step of the way. They're called stakeholders because they have a stake in your business, but in our thinking, it works both ways. Just as importantly, you have a huge stake in THEM, because no business leader has all the answers, and less so given the constant market, social and climate changes that are part of your Context in today's economy.

That's where stakeholders come in. Look at them not as chess pieces you move to implement a strategy, but as players on the same side of the board, side-by-side with you. A strategy is a living project, and your stakeholders are, therefore, co-creators. Yes, you lead, but to make the best moves, you have to be in it together.

What's your map?

Pick up any guide on people or audience engagement and you'll find something called a stakeholder map. It is the logical first step, because it tells you who your stakeholders are. They vary depending on the size, industry and complexity of your business, but generally fall in these 13 buckets, which we'll apply loosely here to HVC:

  1. Employees. Clearly the most vital, because without them, you can't do anything at all. Whether you have 10 or 1,000, you need them to be in on your sustainability strategy to make your Circularity work like a charm, for them to Innovate constantly, to participate in your Resilience plan, and for at least some of them to partake in your broader Context.
  2. Customers. So much Innovation comes from customer feedback. Depending on your product, you may need customers to return items for a Circular production loop, plus so many other operational aspects. They are also invariably part of your Resilience when you're hit by a natural disaster shock or deal with social stress.
  3. Suppliers. You cannot do Circularity without them. They can also become sources of great feedback and Innovation, when engaged strategically for that purpose, which very few businesses do with their suppliers. And when your supply chains are disrupted by a natural disaster, having a certain engagement with your suppliers becomes life saving.
  4. Communities. They live, work, study and play in the neighborhood(s) where you do business and can therefore contribute across every element of your strategy.
  5. NGOs. Ditto these stakeholders. Some are part of those nearby communities, but we separate them here because you can call on other NGOs to collaborate in your Circularity, Innovation, Resilience and Context.
  6. The media. Reporters, editors and producers are key stakeholders, as well, not so much because they have a stake in your company, but rather for the stake you have in the coverage of everything you do in sustainability.
  7. Bloggers. This is like the media, but instead they are citizens and informal journalists. Since they tend to be influencers who drive opinion and word of mouth, you need to engage a certain way.
  8. Social media. We're always tempted to lump this together with bloggers and call it all social media, but that is a common mistake we'd rather not have you make. Yes, bloggers live in social, but the vast majority of people in social are not influencers. Indeed, every stakeholder is on social, and then there are those found only here.
  9. Bankers and Investors. These are the folks you rely on for your capital, and they MUST be brought into your sustainability strategy. They have to understand it and embrace the value, and there are ways to make that happen.
  10. Investments. Yours, we mean, where you invest your money and are a source of capital to others. They have a stake in your company, as well, and to the extent you invest in sustainable companies and projects, this engagement becomes part of your Context.
  11. Insurers. When you adopt Circularity, some policy clauses may need amendment. To build Resilience, your adjusters and agents are indispensable. Need we say more?
  12. Industry. These are the trade associations that have to do with your company and industry. Whether you join or not, they are part of your Context and in many cases impact your business and can become part of your Circularity, Innovation and Resilience. To engage is wise, when done right.
  13. Government. An obvious stakeholder vis-a-vis your HVC. Across your Circular operations, in many of your Innovations, to execute your Resilience, and inexorably when you lead or participate in your broader Context, working with regulators and policymakers can enrich your business.

It's holistic

That's quite a few folks, isn't it? As you go through the 13, though, think about how you engage them all already. You do stakeholder engagement every single day, with one or the other. The difference here is that you can conduct this engagement in ways that yield OPTIMAL outcomes. Greater profitability. Better, more sustainable products. A bigger contribution to the commons.

If you look at management literature, stakeholder engagement can become very formulaic, with charts, processes and systems of all kinds. For us, it's a lot more human scale. It's really a natural thing. We call it Engagement Flow.

Again, you engage people every day across the channels you know, which include meetings, events, social media, surveys, content, reporting, and others. Take a closer look at those, apply your stakeholder map to make sure you're covering everyone, juxtapose your HVC building blocks to see where deeper engagement can help, and then elevate your give-and-take, your back-and-forth, with all.

It comes back to the attitude that opened this article. No single leader or senior team can possibly have all the answers. Society and the economy have become far too complex, technology too disruptive, climate change too unpredictable.

See your company as a shared project where many have a high stake, and your engagement, though perhaps more intentional and directed, will no doubt start to flow.