Business can no longer say that it exists simply to generate shareholder profit. Today, business aspirations reach beyond the financial dimension to encompass contributions to a broader set of societal goals, including those focussed on environmental and social responsibility imperatives. To assess the impacts, opportunities and risks of its operations, products and services, therefore, a company must engage with, learn from, and understand the needs and expectations of all of its stakeholders.
For a global cement company such as Holcim, with operations in more than 70 countries, this is a real challenge. Holcim has a stakeholder engagement program to assist in preparing, implementing and evaluating its local stakeholder engagement strategies; the program details, step-by-step, the cyclical process of engaging with stakeholders. Each step includes basic principles, tools and mechanisms that need to be applied. A guidebook explains the model and its tools to those directly involved in stakeholder processes. There are online support materials such as templates, matrices and good practice examples, with in-person support available when required, to supplement the guide. A quick reference guide is used to sensitize a broader internal audience to the value of stakeholder engagement as well as to reinforce the need for a common approach.
It is very important to have a checklist approach that enables local management to proceed logically from step to step in applying the recommended tools, which supplement the model at each stage of the process:
• Analyze situation:What is the current situation: from the company’s perspective; from the stakeholder’s perspective?
• Define objectives: What do you want to achieve? Are the objectives measurable?
• Outline internal roles and responsibilities: Who should do what, and why?
• Map stakeholders and assess their needs for information: Who are your stakeholders? What are their needs and expectations?
• Develop key messages on relevant topics to meet these needs: Has their understandability been tested with the chosen audience?
• Use the most appropriate engagement method for stakeholders:e. g., dialogue (group or one-to-one), community advisory panel, public hearing, focus group, etc.
• Evaluate engagement plan: Were the stated objectives achieved?
• Invest in corrective or preventive action: Will some stakeholder recommendations be acted upon? Will aspects of strategy be changed to better meet stakeholder needs?
A formal stakeholder “needs assessment”is undertaken to ensure that the right information is collected in the most efficient way– usually via document, reviews, surveys, focus groups and interviews. Wherever possible, and when acceptable to stakeholders, facilitation of focus group discussions or individual interviews is undertaken by an independent yet internal specialist from your company.
Certainly there are several advantages to this approach. The facilitator is able to bring professional expertise to the process, yet still be fully cognisant of the company’s perspective. The facilitator can better manage stakeholder expectations about what is possible in terms of company support, compared with an external facilitator who may not have such requisite knowledge about boundaries, parameters or focus areas. There is still a high level of objectivity in the process, as the facilitator is not perceived as “local”.
Dos and don’ts
The following advice is based on Holcim’s use of its model in the field–advice about some fundamental keys to success–a case of “the dos, not the don’ts”:
• Have a clear, well-articulated objective.
• Be realistic–do not start what you cannot finish.
• Allow enough time for planning, planning and more planning.
• Be aware and manage expectations, both yours and your stakeholders’.
• Start thinking about the longer term engagement process early, and consult your stakeholders on what they want in terms of continued communication.
• Focus on quality, not quantity–participants should be invited on the basis of their credibility and ability to be thought-provoking.
• Acknowledge genuine differences. Everyone should make an effort to share perspective, listen and learn.
• Be prepared to be as open and transparent as possible.
Finally, here are some guiding principles to assist management in their engagement activities:
• Preparation–all parties need sufficient information and preparation.
• Openness–by all participants, without fear of restriction or discipline.
• Accountability–engagement should inform decision-making.
• Respect–acknowledge all opinions; be sensitive and facilitate fairly.