1. Embrace more diverse and emergent voices
The best answers to “what will the next microplastics be?” will be found through smart engagement. Interacting with divergent and disparate voices – be they the leaders of social movements, representatives of the next generation of consumers and employees, or experts in local issues. Businesses who have engaged with stakeholders for an extensive period of time can find themselves in the ‘comfort zone’. Engaging with different stakeholders offers an opportunity for challenge and fresh thinking. Seeking out smaller, more local voices and groups can add a lot to a global discussion of more representative voices.
Companies ensuring engagement with a spectrum of stakeholders, from those with whom they might collaborate closely to those who will act as a critical friend, often find disagreement can be constructive and divergent opinions offer opportunities to learn. Our experience suggests it is far better to engage stakeholders and understand the rationale behind a perspective, rather than rule out interaction with certain groups on principle.
2. Supporting relationships that can bring business benefits and social impact
Engagement ties to business performance in many ways: resilience, cost-reduction, increasing sales and securing reputation. Yet companies must strengthen the productive links between stakeholder engagement and business strategy. Business growth plans depend upon consumers believing in the business and its brands and broader stakeholders supporting, or at least not discouraging, them.
To get there, engagement must resonate and be carried out across the business, not be confined to the territory of those with ‘sustainability’ or ‘corporate responsibility’ in their job titles. The complex issues with which business grapples touch the outside world, and external insights can deliver real value. Engagement is a critical tool for identifying emerging issues but its real power lies in using external (and internal) intelligence to support the creation of commercial solutions to some of our most testing environmental and social challenges. Stanley Black and Decker is just one example of a company that is using engagement to better understand market needs, particularly the requirements of disadvantaged groups. It is using this information to design products and services that are not only better for society and environment, but generate a good return for the business.
Currently, stakeholder engagement focuses on achieving a ‘licence to operate’. By embracing more diverse voices, connecting engagement to core strategy, using engagement as tool to focus the business on commercial solutions to societal challenges, and by building a network that can help support a corporate purpose with social relevance businesses might secure a ‘licence to succeed’.