So you’re a fan of Conscious Capitalism. You’ve done the work to promote these ideas in your client companies. You’ve read all the books and maybe you’ve even attended a few events to go deeper. You’ve helped your clients to create a map of their company’s key stakeholders and you have their teams on board with the idea that they need to create win-win’s across the business ecosystem. And that’s when they ask you the question. “I get that we should do it,” they say, “but how?’
We talk about this a lot in the Conscious Capitalism Consultant Certification program and if you haven’t read certified consultant Tim Kelley’s five levels of stakeholder engagement already, have a quick look at that before you move on here. I (Ravi) earned my certification by helping a client actually engage their stakeholders at the Level 5 that Tim discusses in that article and I want to share a bit about how consultants of conscious capitalism can answer the question of how to really do stakeholder engagement.
Let’s start with remembering that stakeholder engagement is all about building trusting relationships with your stakeholders, or to be more specific, with the people who happen to be your stakeholders. We, the company, cannot build a relationship with “our vendors”, but the humans who make purchasing decisions can build relationships with the humans who work for the vendor. I know this is an obvious point, but I’ve seen a lot of company stakeholder maps that don’t name names, and that is part of why teams get confused about the how.
Another pitfall is assuming your stakeholders all have the same needs and care about the same things. I don’t think any company actually thinks this, but what often suffices for stakeholder communication is including them in the company newsletter. Effective stakeholder communication is not one to many. That is not how you build a relationship.
The how of stakeholder engagement is one on one. But how do you get started on building that kind of a relationship? There is no “one way” to do this, but allow me to share my way as an example that should get things off on the right foot.
Set a meeting with a stakeholder and be sure to schedule enough time to get below the surface. That would be at least an hour in the beginning and maybe even 90 minutes if you can make that work.
The goal is to make it safe for people to tell you what they really think. This is easier said than done of course, but I find being very upfront about your desire to form a strong relationship is best.
Then consider following this basic outline:
- Find out a bit about this person as a person; What is their story?
- Next move onto the business relationship they have with your company; what are their expectations and needs?
- Now ask to what extent those needs are being met, and dig in to learn all you can about any problems that surface. Be listening for how this person feels about the relationship.
What I like to advise my clients to do is to rate these meeting using a sale of charge that goes from plays plus (+ +) to minus minus (- -). If this person is absolutely in love with the company and can’t stop gushing about it, then I call that a plus plus (++) If they are pretty neutral, I call that an equal charge (=) and if they are have some frustrations but they are not still open to things improving that would be a minus (-).
FInally ask them what opportunities they see for the company. Depending on how the meeting has gone so far, this question may open up a possibility for collaboration you had never considered, or it may tell you exactly how to fix an issue that is causing a negative charge. Or it may elicit a blank stare as the question had never before been considered. But whatever happens, it can help to deepen the relationship.
But wait, you’re not done yet. After an interview, you need to figure out what, if anything, you are going to do with the information you have gathered.
This is the moment to practice your critical thinking. Have a look for any mismatch between words and actions. For example, if you have a stakeholder who tells you up and down how excited they are about the company purpose, but you note that they are really reluctant to take action consistent with that purpose, you might change your rating from “+ +” to “=” or maybe even “-.”
Another part of thinking critically is getting multiple perspectives to try to get as complete a picture as you can. Don’t just talk to one employee or one customer, but try to get a somewhat representative sample.
Now it is time to prioritize. Use your charge scores and also consider how important this particular stakeholder relationship is to your company. But also consider how important your relationship is to that stakeholder. Multiplying the importance of relationships on either side by the negativity of the charge will generally give you your priority. It should go without saying, but even in very negative relationships, trust can be built by acting on the information you gather in these one on one sessions.
It’s a good idea to thank everyone you spoke with and to communicate to them any actions that the company will take to further strengthen the relationship in the future. Be sure not to neglect the stakeholder relationships with a positive charge, lest that charge lose it positivity. In some cases your superfans and can be proactive in advocating for the company.
Repeat this process quarterly. If the previous sentence took a sense of overwhelm you’ve been noticing as you read this article and pushed it right over the edge, let me make one final point. This kind of stakeholder engagement is work that nearly everyone in the company should be doing. It keeps everyone connected to the business ecosystem and can create incredible opportunities for innovation and contribution over and above job description. This is some of the secret sauce of conscious capitalism, and while I’ll be the first to admit that getting a system like the one I describe here up and running in a company is a heavy lift, once they get the hang of it, the benefits in terms of individual engagement and the overall resilience of the company ecosystem create one hell of an advantage in the marketplace.
Ravi Rai is the Managing Partner at UK-based Four Points Consulting, and he is the first certified Conscious Capitalism consultant in Europe.
Nathan Havey is the co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Transformation and he is the lead facilitator of the Conscious Capitalism Consultant Certification Program