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Seven proven ways to engage internal stakeholders


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A thoughtpiece from the CSR Training Institute
by Wayne Dunn

Internal stakeholders may be the best investment you can make in the sustainability of your stakeholder engagement and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs!! Seriously.

We all know examples where the people dealing with communities, stakeholders and responsibilities are ghettoized in a corner of a project or company and not seen as part of the ‘real business’.

Here are seven proven ways to get colleague onboard.

1. What’s in it for them? Think of their interests
2. Build allies, find champions
3. Share stories from their peers
4. Don’t be a do gooder. Keep your organization’s interest paramount
5. Learn their language
6. Be passionate, but not fanatical
7. Assertive Humility: Humble AND assertive

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Seven proven ways to engage internal stakeholders

  1. 1. Helping business to serve shareholders AND society SIMULTANEOUSLY Seven steps for engaging internal stakeholders -by Wayne Dunn
  2. 2. proven ways to get COLLEAGUES on board with sustainability and corporate RESPONSIBILITY 7 The best investment you make in the sustainability of your stakeholder engagement and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs could be your internal stakeholders. Seriously! The people dealing with communities, stakeholders and responsibilities are too often ghettoized in a corner of a project or company and not seen as part of the ‘real business’. This costs the company money and can be demoralizing. They are tolerated, sometimes even encouraged, but when budgets get tight they are often squarely in the cutting line. It’s not a very sustainable position, for them or the company. So if that’s where you are, you need to change your positioning and make successfully engaging internal stakeholders a priority. Do it right and other parts of your organization will recognize the important contribution CSR and stakeholder engagement make to profitability, shareholder value and their specific interests. Drop the ball on internal stakeholder engagement and you’ll be near the front of the line the next time cuts and downsizing happens and near the back of the line for budget increases.
  3. 3. Even with your most compelling arguments not everyone will become a raving fan of your work. If you engage appropriately, however, some will, and others will at least be supportive. Your colleagues are your allies; work with them. Help them to know more about your work and what it means for their area and interests, for the company and for other key areas. With the right information, support and rationale you can then turn one or two into strategic champions for your work and its value to the company. 3. Share stories from their peers 2. Build allies, find champions Stories are great for communicating and engaging, souse some to help you reach internal stakeholders. Find short, pointed stories on how CSR/stakeholder engagement and other related areas had big impacts on particular areas and then share them appropriately – and strategically. page 02 Ask what CSR has to offer your company from top to bottom and side to side, through finance, human resources, investor relations, engineering, C-suites, etc. Work out how your own success contributes to their success. And think through how it impacts on them if your work fails, if your project or company loses its social license? Then capture these thoughts, make lists and communicate them (see items 3 & 5 below). Use each new specific example as an opportunity to remind them. 1. Ask what’s in it for them? Think of their interests Seven steps for engaging internal stakeholders The good news is that the core principles for successfully engaging internal stakeholders are much the same as for other stakeholder groups. They include, in no particular order:
  4. 4. I was near the conclusion of the project, an assessment of the company’s social license/CSR work in a particular geographic region it was working in. The work they were doing was incredible, clearly one of the best examples in the world. This was back in 1999 but is still one of the best – they were way ahead of the game. However, the local systems and successes I assessed were not consistent across their entire operations. They had countries and regions where they were doing little or nothing. Big risks. And they didn’t see them. So, I explained the risk to the CFO saying that if they had a problem, if something came up in those other areas, they would have a hard time to respond to an agitated public and confron- tational stakeholder groups (think about making friends in the middle of a mob!) But he didn’t seem interested.I think he was happy to see me leave his office. About a month later the company had a cyanide spill that, while technically not a major con- cern, quickly became a major international issue both for them and for the country they were headquartered in. The spill happened some distance from their mine. However their vehicles routinely passed through a local community with whom they had not fostered any relationships at all. You can imagine how the community felt as trucks drove through daily, going to and from the mine, and with nobody from the company ever coming by. They didn’t even have much oppor- tunity for jobs or business at the mine-site. So, when the spill happened, the community used it to get some major attention. Suddenly there were advocacy and special interest NGOs all over the community and the incident got a lot of global media attention. Share price plummeted and the company went into emergency response. Except, they didn’t really have the relationships with local or international stakeholders to mount a quick and effective response to this situation (think again of building relationships in a mob!). A couple of months later when I was back at headquarters, the CFO actually asked to see me. He had been through a pretty rough period. As the share price tanked the company was suddenly getting all sorts of attention it didn’t like from investors, lenders and other financial stakeholders. The company found itself offside of important agreements like debt to market capitalization covenants. Now a previously skepticalCFO had become a believer. Now he could see how the success of stakeholder engagement and CSR programs had real meaning and value for his job and the company. Seven steps for engaging internal stakeholders page 03 Changed Perception of Value
  5. 5. Do good work but don’t be a ‘do gooder’. Your work and the good you do is important for sure. But so are the interests of your com- pany. Keep your work consciously aligned with the broader interests of your company. Always, always, keep the company’s interests at the forefront. Link your own job and goals to what is good for the company in other ways, for example mitigating risk for the company. Lose that link and you are lost. Your company wants good work but not a do-gooder, and the same applies to the stakeholders you are working with. 4. Don’t be a ‘do gooder’. Keep your organization’s inter- est paramount 5. Learn their lan- guage You will be much more effective at communicating with various internal stakeholder groups if you ‘learn their language’. Hint: Do-gooder language won’t get you very far in the CFO’s office! By ‘doing’ stakeholder engagement and CSR you can seem like an alien from another planet! So learn enough about your colleague’s world and priorities to communicate with them in a way that they can hear and understand. page 04 Seven steps for engaging internal stakeholders These stories will not only help you to better communicate the value in your work to your colleagues, they will also help you to under- stand your colleagues’ interests better. 6. Be passionate, but not fanatical Most of us working in CSR and stakeholder engagement are pas- sionate about our work. But so too are many who work in other areas of your organization. Passion is a gift. Cherish it. Fanaticism is a curse. Avoid it. It is perfectly fine to be passionate about your work and the impact it is having (both on and for stakeholders AND for shareholders). But, don’t be fanatical about it. Passionate is constructive. Fanati- cal is destructive. This is a simple communication skill but often can be challenging to apply, especially when projects and initiatives feel so important. Always remember that there is a fine line between passionate and fanatical and stay on the constructive side of the line.
  6. 6. 7. Assertive Humil- ity: Humble AND assertive Temper all internal stakeholder engagement with assertive humility. We’ve all seen do-gooders that come across as ‘holier than thou’. It is a turn-off. We’ve also seen the meek and mild who struggle to make a point but fail to communicate effectively. The work you are doing is important. Very important. So is the work that others in your company are doing. Recognize both of these realities. Remember – internal stakeholders are key to the success of your work. Do not assume that they are automatically on your side. Invest time in under- standing them and their interests and in explaining how and why your success supports their success. Learn to engage and communicate with them in effective ways and you, your work, your company and your other stakeholders’ will all benefit. page 05 Seven steps for engaging internal stakeholders To see other CSR Thoughtpieces and articles by Wayne click here>>> To get updates and newsletters from Wayne Dunn and the CSR Training Institute click here>>> Click to Follow
  7. 7. Professor Dunn brings a practical and realistic approach to CSR, blending theory and practice to develop realistic models and approaches to address real-world challenges Dr. Ellis Armstrong Former CFO, BP Exploration …coherent, thoughtful, stimulating and insightful… state of the art! The network of participants from the public, private and civil society sectors was incredible, some of the leading experts in the field.   Kojo Busia, Ph. D. Snr. Mineral Sector Governance Advisor United Nations Economic Commission for Africa/UNECA …pragmatic blend of theory and practice, very applicable to helping organizations meet real-world challenges. Frank McShane Manager, Corporate Responsibility Policy and Ethics, Talisman Energy … readily available to provide support to organizations like Amref that are seeking partnerships, and looking to bring about positive change in a collaborative and concrete way. Wayne and the CSR Training Institute helped us to identify and connect with potential partners and are always available. The training, the expertise, the network and the overall support are world-class. Onome Ako Director of Strategic Partnerships, Amref Health Africa “The program enhanced the CSR knowledge and strategic skills of our Kosmos Energy Ghana team, and offered the participants a platform for networking with professionals from other organizations across Africa and Ghana.”  Reg Manhas Sr VP Kosmos Energy Very much helpful Wayne; some of the tips and questions you gave will be an extremely helpful guide in the process of developing a CSR Strategy for my company. Emmanuel Aubynn Regional Social Responsibility Manager, Newmont Africa The CSR Program was excellent. A key aspect of my work is to encourage and support private sector development that contributes to Ghana’s overall socio-economic growth. The learning that I and my staff take away from attending this program will help us immensely with this responsibility. I highly recommend this program. Hon. Rashid Pelpuo (MP) Minister of State for Private Sector Development and Public Private Partnerships (Ghana) New and exciting insights into the theory and practice of CSR… great faculty and participants, very diversified. An excellent learning experience, very practical and useful. I’m very happy I was able to participate in it. Hon InusahFuseini (MP) Minister of Lands and Natural Resources (Ghana) WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT OUR WORK
  8. 8. Should Business Serve SHAREHOLDERS? Should Business Serve SOCIETY? IT SHOULD SERVE BOTH. Wayne Dunn is President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute and Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill. He’s a Stanford Sloan Fellow with a M.Sc. in Management from Stanford Business School.   He is a veteran of 20+ years of award winning global CSR and sustainability work spanning the globe and covering many indus- tries and sectors including extensive work with Indigenous Peoples in Canada and globally. His work has won major international awards and has been used extensively as ‘best-practice’ by industry and academia. He’s also worked oil rigs, prospecting, diamond drilling, logging, commercial fishing, heavy equipment operator, truck driver and underwater logging, done a couple of start-ups and too many other things to mention.   Wayne’s career includes big successes, and spectacular failures. He hopes he’s learned equally from both. WAYNE DUNN, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER Helping business to serve society and shareholders, SIMULTANEOUSLY.