Have you ever wondered why the business programmes on television get so over-excited by key events in the political diary?
In the UK, there is the King’s Speech at the opening of a new Parliamentary session, and there are set-piece occasions such as the Budget or the Chancellor’s traditional Autumn Financial Statement.
In the modern culture of 24 news and never-ending speculation-cum-commentary, journalists often hype the seemingly unimportant as being of mega-significance.
The truth is that lots of Government announcements may be of only marginal relevance for most of us. But, equally, they could be full of implications for some people, or some businesses.
I recently analysed two such events – the 2023 Kings speech and the Autumn Statement two weeks later. Both contained announcements that could affect the business plans of organisations – large and small. They can also affect their relationships with suppliers, employees, customers, or the general public. In fact, stakeholders of all kinds.
Navigating and monitoring change
This is why so many companies and trade organisations invest in lobbying or in ‘public affairs’. Not always is it the caricature pursuit of direct influence; it is often just the need to keep abreast of what is happening in the political world and what initiatives appear to be likely.
Take announcements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many of these are often leaked in advance; any careful reader of the media, or a follower of domain-specific websites or blogs would be aware of what’s coming. But not everything.
Also, it is one thing to know that there may be changes to the planning laws, but a property developer needs to know how exactly they will affect its business.
Similarly, if you are an importer of goods, the announcement of a new freeport in your area might open up some real opportunities. Or it might not; the devil will be in the detail, so beware of a simple headline.
Acting as the eyes and ears of an organisation may be something that’s done in-house, or sub-contracted – often at considerable expense – to specialist third parties who monitor Parliament business, Think Tanks, or policy influencers.
The same process applies at more local levels. Net zero-inspired initiatives that affect the modal split between public transport and the private car can arouse considerable controversy.
Public sector contracts for support services or even operational delivery may be impacted by a change of political control. Too often, businesses and other organisations find out too late about plans or developments that affect them.
Public sector institutions are also frequently left in the dark. Headcount reductions and successive waves of management de-layering have left organisations like local authorities, Police, Fire & Rescue, and the NHS operationally heavy, but managerially light.
Before reacting to various developments, they often have to wait for Statutory Guidance, or – worse still – informal Guidance. It can be a long wait.
This is why astute Chief Executives have discovered that to keep their organisations agile and responsive to change, they need to invest in stakeholder management.
Not just a system, but a network of associated people and bodies, many of which share in the need to monitor what’s happening in their business or service environment.
Ideally, these are ‘business intelligence’ networks. Gathering, assessing, and discussing the implications of potential developments with fellow stakeholders.
There are limits to this in a commercial culture where being first to react to change is a competitive advantage. But for huge swathes of the economy, there is no such inhibition to shared learning. In many sectors, there is a general understanding that it is in everyone’s interests to pool this intelligence – especially where there is a regulatory element.
Change management and stakeholder management
So, what does this mean for stakeholder management?
- You must figure out what kind of advance warning you may need in respect of legislative, regulatory, or political developments.
- Make or buy access to high-grade intelligence for issues which are mission critical – or maybe significantly affect your business operations.
- You need to create a culture of information sharing among internal stakeholders and figure out what you expect to share with external stakeholders. Conversely, think through what you might expect them to share with you.
- Configure your stakeholder management system to act as an easily searchable repository for the ‘soft data’ such as what a particular stakeholder tells you, or what you tell them!
- Work with your public affairs teams – where they exist – to consider what messages you wish to send to various stakeholders about forthcoming changes or developments.
- Keep track of your communications and the stakeholders' responses to you.
For some organisations, we are approaching the point where public relations, public affairs, corporate communications, and possibly strategic marketing converge.
It is also where stakeholder management provides the data spine – and using the best system tools, the functionality that enables professional managers to manage the interface with key stakeholders.
In a world where change never stops and where regulatory and political change are becoming less predictable, stakeholder management has never been more critical.
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 ConsultationGuru.