Business leaders have a vital role to play in stakeholder engagement. It is just too important to be left to the communications and public affairs teams alone.
Government policy impacts every aspect of how you run and grow your business. It can mean the difference between a good and a bad reputation; success and failure; a market to operate in or access denied; growth or stagnation.
As a business leader, YOU need to be the face of your company. Political stakeholders invariably want to talk to business decision-makers not the people who communicate messages once the strategy has been agreed. They want to understand the potential impact of policy on your business, jobs, consumers, the community and the environment.
You can choose to stand back, hiding behind your policy teams and trade associations and hope for the best. Or you can be bold and sail into the sometimes uncomfortable and ever-changing stakeholder landscape – with the support of your communications and public affairs teams – and engage with the players that inhabit it. That will be demanding and not without its risks.
Obviously communications and public affairs professionals have an incredibly important role to play in preparing and supporting business leaders in stakeholder meetings; representing the company when appropriate; monitoring and analysing policy developments; developing political strategies, messages and campaigns; and ensuring that business decisions are taken within the context of how they will be perceived by political stakeholders and society at large.
Engaging with stakeholders, including critical ones, is not only about getting your story across. It’s about laying the foundations for positioning the company for success in the future. It can be about the long-term survival of the business.
Fifteen years ago we lived in a completely different and more predictable world, where companies knew pretty well what to expect from their interactions with their key stakeholders, be it an NGO, a local politician, Member of the European Parliament or Minister.
Since then, the environment in which companies operate has undergone an extraordinary transformation. The 2007 economic crisis dramatically changed citizens’ perception of financial institutions, businesses and governments alike. Companies are coming under increased scrutiny for their business practices, on issues ranging from corporate governance and taxation to sustainability. On top of this, social media platforms have contaminated every aspect of our (real) life, revolutionising not only the ways people communicate with their family and friends but also the way they interact with businesses, governments and politicians.
The economic dislocation of globalisation, very rapid and continuing technological change and the hang-over of the economic crisis are at the heart of some notable new phenomena, including the new populist surge, that have disrupted politics and governments and have revolutionised how to engage with and influence these stakeholders.
The days when stakeholder engagement was a boring, predictable exercise are gone forever. Long gone are the days where old school wining and dining lobbying campaigns delivered results. Following the models used by political campaigns and NGO campaigns, stakeholder engagement is now about using the full array of campaigning tactics, from media and social media to grassroot mobilisation and creative, integrated campaigns. The involvement of senior business leaders in this engagement can be the difference between success and failure.
At BOLDT, we have designed an interactive and provocative 24-hour training programme specifically aimed at sensitising business leaders to the importance of engaging with all types of external stakeholder, including critical ones, and providing them with the best tools and tips to enable them to walk the talk and get their company’s story across.
Want to find out more about our stakeholder engagement programmes and why they matter to your business? Contact Jeremy Galbraith.