I’m convinced that stakeholder engagement is the leading edge of sustainability, and that those organisations most skilled at engagement, are more likely to survive and thrive. Engagement isn’t a new practice; good communicators have been engaging for centuries – but with stakeholder engagement emerging as a discipline we have a better understanding of both the importance of engagement, and the processes required to formalise it.
I’m also convinced that formalising stakeholder engagement shouldn’t be too complicated. As with any new discipline, it will require specialised resources until it becomes second nature – patterned into the organisational neural map.
The role of stories
People will engage more effectively if they are able to navigate the engagement universe. I call it a universe here, because it is so broad and diverse. If we can understand the myriad possibilities for engagement, we are better equipped to engage.
This is where stories are useful. I will be scanning for examples of engagement locally and globally, and hopefully getting leads for stories from you. Companies make considered statements about stakeholder engagement in annual reports and sustainability reports, but they are typically “high level” without revealing what people actually do in their engagement.
The examples I have in mind represent a tiny sample of the diversity of engagement. They range from global community and government level, right down to individuals making a difference in the local community. For example there are the agencies set up to bridge the divide between health clinicians and indigenous people, the oil refinery that provides a secure habitat for an endangered bird species, and a teacher engaging in new ways with parents in the first week of a new job.
Engaging the heart
James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s great book Encouraging the Heart told us how stories were so important in motivating and inspiring people. Stories also help to create emotional bonds. When we hear the stories of others we empathise with them and new possibilities can be awakened in our hearts as we learn of their lives and achievements. And engagement involves understanding and appreciating the world of your stakeholders. When you have that appreciation, you are far better equipped to find areas of mutual interest and potential collaboration.
My stories will follow soon. I would love to hear your stories of engagement. Who were the stakeholders? Was there a gap to be bridged? What was learned? What were the gains?