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organisation wide stakeholder engagement
4 min read

Organisation-wide Stakeholder Engagement

Organisation-wide Stakeholder Engagement

Large-scale organisations – be they public bodies or commercial companies recognise that they have huge numbers of stakeholders. And they are all different.

In fact, everyone with whom they need to build, define, and support a relationship.

Over the years, it is remarkable how businesses and services of all kinds have come to recognise that success comes from managing relationships.

That task has become more complicated as the different methods of interacting with individuals and organisations have proliferated. Consider the extent to which the online world makes it easier to communicate; that’s very good news!

On the other hand, consider the pitfalls of over-communication, the perils of junk messaging, misinformation, and the forthcoming distortions of AI.

We have simultaneously learnt more about the behaviour of different kinds of stakeholders, and absorbed legislative provisions for equality, diversity, privacy and other procedural requirements.

The challenge of differing organisational cultures

There are two consequences.

One is that stakeholder management has tended to become a specialist activity, undertaken mainly by those who have experience in handling and retaining confidential data and recording the ups and downs of mission-critical relationships.

The second is that business-as-usual (BAU) ALSO demands that a wide range of functions observe best practice in the way they engage with stakeholders on a daily basis.

Here we encounter the difficulty that separate functions in an organisation have distinct and different working cultures. The way people behave in a sales department differs from the style and content of communications in, for example, a procurement/purchasing unit. In the public sector, policy-making or regulatory functions work very differently from front-line service delivery teams.

Maybe these cultural characteristics are less obvious than they once were. The use of standard tools like emails, messaging and document sharing may make everyone look as if working methods are identical.

In reality, they are not. This is because the dynamics of workplaces often reflect power structures

  • Who has the authority to approve what?
  • Who needs to sign off on a particular communication?
  • When do you need to leverage a personal relationship?
  • With whom do you share sensitive information?
  • How widely do you disseminate agendas, meeting notes, and action plans…?

and a hundred other questions.

No better case study will emerge than the horrendous Post Office Scandal Inquiry, which has recently been hearing evidence from senior management figures. Their discomfort has been obvious for all to see. On too many occasions, one department has pointed the finger at another. Critical information was not shared. No one quite knew who knew what and when. Or they can’t quite remember.

We all hope this is a single calamitous, one-off scandal; the consequences of the deadly mix of incompetence, disorganisation and wilful disregard for natural justice will surely not be replicated elsewhere. And yet? 

Might there be other Companies and public bodies who worry that they still operate in departmental ‘silos’ and where their processes for interfacing with important stakeholders may lack coherence … or consistency.

Are there Chief Executives right now who worry that, were they to be subject to the kind of detailed scrutiny that has become necessary with the Post Office, that they might also fall short of best practice standards?

Improving stakeholder engagement

Addressing such issues is not an easy task.

First, it is necessary to acknowledge the problem. There is, after all, a balance to be struck. Disciplined delegation has many advantages and gives functional departments the autonomy to foster creativity and innovation. Against that is the need for high-profile organisations to observe and enforce values and standards across the wider enterprise to ensure consistency and accountability.

Secondly, it may be necessary to define the stakeholders that need to be covered by the adopted standards and to identify which members of staff (or even subcontractors! ) have the authority to interface with them.

Thirdly, an organisation needs to formulate and publish a process manual or equivalent incorporating various protocols that may apply to specific stakeholder categories. Examples would be:

  • How do we interface with Members of Parliament?
  • How do we communicate with campaigners?
  • Who notifies key stakeholders if we have to activate our crisis management plan?
  • What do we wish to say to the media? (Yes, media relations is part of stakeholder management!)

Finally, there is a need for system tools and for an information platform.

Some years ago, I remember being a little surprised – and concerned when I discovered how many different ‘stakeholder databases’ existed in an average local authority. Each one was closely guarded by its own data gatekeeper.

They all contained their own often-eclectic set of data, gathered, updated and utilised according to the owning department’s priorities, expressed in their own ‘vocabulary’ and operating to their own timescales. And many were routinely out-of-date.

No doubt the picture is better nowadays, but there are still inefficiencies and reputational risks from undertaking stakeholder management in an uncoordinated or piecemeal way.

The way we engage with those who matter most to us or the organisation we represent is too important to be left to haphazard processes and untrained practitioners.

We are about to enter a period where standards will become better defined and observed by best-in-class organisations.

Be prepared!


Written by Rhion Jones

Rhion Jones was the Founder Director of the Consultation Institute and is an acknowledged authority on all aspects of public and stakeholder engagement and consultation. He advises Tractivity and will be contributing expert analysis and commentaries on current issues.

Rhion now publishes thought leadership articles regularly as the Consultation Guru.

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