Introducing engaging stories

I’m convinced that stakeholder engagement is the leading edge of sustainability, and that those organisations most skilled at engagement, are more likely to survive and thrive. Engagement isn’t a new practice; good communicators have been engaging for centuries – but with stakeholder engagement emerging as a discipline we have a better understanding of both the importance of engagement, and the processes required to formalise it.

 The scaffolding

I’m also convinced that formalising stakeholder engagement shouldn’t be too complicated. As with any new discipline, it will require specialised resources until it becomes second nature – patterned into the organisational neural map.

 The role of stories

People will engage more effectively if they are able to navigate the engagement universe. I call it a universe here, because it is so broad and diverse. If we can understand the myriad possibilities for engagement, we are better equipped to engage.

This is where stories are useful. I will be scanning for examples of engagement locally and globally, and hopefully getting leads for stories from you. Companies make considered statements about stakeholder engagement in annual reports and sustainability reports, but they are typically “high level” without revealing what people actually do in their engagement.

The examples I have in mind represent a tiny sample of the diversity of engagement. They range from global community and government level, right down to individuals making a difference in the local community. For example there are the agencies set up to bridge the divide between health clinicians and indigenous people, the oil refinery that provides a secure habitat for an endangered bird species, and a teacher engaging in new ways with parents in the first week of a new job.

 Engaging the heart

James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s great book Encouraging the Heart told us how stories were so important in motivating and inspiring people. Stories also help to create emotional bonds. When we hear the stories of others we empathise with them and new possibilities can be awakened in our hearts as we learn of their lives and achievements. And engagement involves understanding and appreciating the world of your stakeholders. When you have that appreciation, you are far better equipped to find areas of mutual interest and potential collaboration.

Your stories

My stories will follow soon. I would love to hear your stories of engagement. Who were the stakeholders? Was there a gap to be bridged? What was learned? What were the gains?

1 comment

  1. There is a real danger in identifying stakeholder engagement as a leading edge activity in that corporate and public agencies may see it as an important new idea but neither understand why they’re doing it nor have the commitment to see it through. This tends to be particularly true at the lower end of the management and employee levels – usually those people who have to implement the ‘latest good idea’. My experience tells me that there are two things, at least, required for successful engagement.

    Firstly, there needs to be a high level champion in the organisation, someone who has the skill and power to drive the process forward. All too often a low level manager or staff member is designated as the lead on engagement and they are easily sidelined by their managers and colleagues who have no desire to participate in stakeholder engagement.

    Secondly, resources need to be attached. Resources for training, publicity, meeting costs, etc, but also time resources. Engagement takes time out of the day and that needs to be recognized. Whilst it does need to become second nature that doesn’t mean that time won’t be required. There is, without doubt, a staff cost associated with successful stakeholder engagement.

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