Stakeholder engagement? Cue eyeroll... So where did it all go so wrong? And how can we get back on track?

“...the current emphasis on “stakeholder value” is one part enlightenment, one part public relations, and one part an attempt by corporate directors to get a freer hand to run companies as they personally see fit,” according to Peter Coy, economics editor for Bloomberg Businessweek (as reported in ‘Shareholders v stakeholders: Was Milton Friedman wrong?’).


Some would suggest this is a jaded and cynical view. While in a world of what seems like almost daily corporate scandals, many more would likely absolutely agree.


Regardless of where your opinion lands, what’s clear is that somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our way when it comes to stakeholder value and engagement. In an era where mistrust in big business is showing few signs of abating, we need to get back on track, moving away from corporate cliches and cynicism, towards truly valuing and hero-ing our stakeholders.


Stakeholder value and engagement isn’t a new phenomenon, so what has gone so wrong over the years? It all boils down to sentiment. It’s the sentiment behind stakeholder engagement that makes it effective. And it’s the wrong sentiment that’s clouding what stakeholder engagement is really about, and that’s belying its true value.


Stakeholder engagement, as with all communications, must be based on a sound knowledge of the drivers, the wants and the fears of different audiences. What do they care about? What’s in it for them? How will they be impacted?


When stakeholder engagement becomes unstuck, is when it’s about driving a single-minded agenda. It’s the push without the pull – there’s no give and take. The word engagement in itself is a bit of a giveaway. Engagement is an agreement between parties. It’s active. It’s not something that you switch on for a campaign and switch off again when you’ve got what you want.


It’s about relationships; understanding your audiences, and being in it for the long haul through ups and downs. Both parties listening and talking, with open and transparent communication at its heart.


When it comes to stakeholder engagement, not everyone will come out feeling like a winner every time. But that’s okay…. If the sentiment is right. And just think of what a little active listening and open two-way dialogue – true stakeholder engagement - might do for building trust!



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