Stakeholder management - the power of shared value & trust
Over the last 10 months, COVID-19 has had an exponential impact on industries and organisations, regardless of size or location. As a result stakeholder management has never been more important or come with greater challenges. The business and economic uncertainty that has come with COVID-19, has increased the need for organisations to develop robust, defensible and flexible stakeholder management strategies and tools in order to be effective. “Stakeholder engagement is - and will remain - a core element of the sustainability toolkit,” comments BSR in its Five Step Approach to Stakeholder Management report.
BSR defines stakeholder management as “a fundamental component of materiality assessments, which are then used to inform sustainability strategy, reporting, and disclosure. Corporations need strategies in order to understand and respond to existing and emerging societal concerns. Without input from key stakeholder groups, any approach to sustainability will be limited by an organisation’s self-interest and inward focus.” While stakeholder management is an essential part of an organisation's operations, engaging with stakeholders is not an easy operation. With this in mind, Business Chief North America gains insight from BSR on why adopting a strategy that creates shared value and develops trust is the best approach to drive effective stakeholder engagement.
Developing an engagement strategy
Prior to engaging in any form of strategy development, it is important for organisations to develop an understanding of what stakeholder engagement means to them, as well as what the desired achievements are for the operations. While often used to describe public relations or reputation management, it is also important for organisations to understand that these types of communication are not the same as stakeholder engagement.
In order to be successful when it comes to engaging with stakeholders, BSR highlights that the corporate mindset needs to shift from seeing stakeholder concerns as external risks to manage, to being serious topics that require transparent dialogue and a strategic response. “Stakeholders that choose to engage with companies generally expect this interaction to generate change, which is why it is a mistake to treat engagement as a one-way information dissemination process, rather than as a dialogue,” adds BSR.
When done well, the value of stakeholder engagement is expected to add up over time, providing support during times of difficulty, whether it be reputational or economical. “Companies that are more aware of stakeholder interests are more likely to avoid crises because they are better able to anticipate risks and opportunities,” comments BSR. “A number of compelling studies on the impacts of good community and stakeholder relations across industries and countries, have concluded that companies that intentionally build stakeholder trust are more financially resilient over time, across multiple indicators of value.”
An important element of stakeholder engagement is the understanding of who the key stakeholders are and where they came from, as well as what their relationship is to the company. This process allows organisations to map their stakeholder landscape and determine the correct method and approach for effective communications.
Once determined, in order to deliver clear, flexible and trusted communication, BSR identifies six core principles that should govern engagement: focused and relevant engagement goals; timely engagement that can inform outcomes and business decisions; providing diverse and inclusive perspectives as well as being culturally sensitive and accessible; not just sharing but ensuring that the stakeholder is listened to too; and ensuring transparent communication and sharing information.
It is important to ensure that once an engagement with stakeholders is made, that the original purpose and aims; the methods used; the participants; a summary of any concerns, expectations, and perceptions; a summary of discussions; and a robust list of outputs are documented in order to measure the success and build upon the efforts made for future engagements. “Companies often conduct engagements and then fail to document the results and act transparently on the information gained through the exchanges,” comments BSR, who explains that adopting this approach will “help hone your message for the appropriate audience.”
Ultimately, BSR states that, “the art of stakeholder engagement does not actually lie in which format you choose, but in how well you match a format to the issue, stakeholder(s), and situation. The scale, scope, and span of the engagement will vary, depending on these specifics.”
To develop a strategic vision for stakeholder engagement there are four core elements to consider: The company’s history and past efforts Determining and understanding the motivations behind the engagement, setting a vision with objectives to achieve Defining the boundaries of the stakeholder landscape, which may require full stakeholder mapping Whether the engagements will be a one-off or an ongoing relationship
The impact of COVID-19 on stakeholder management
"The companies we work with all say that, if anything, the COVID-19 crisis has amplified stakeholder management. Companies are getting more questions from stakeholders, not less. This includes questions from investors, clients, and consumers.
In terms of topics, the spotlight has shifted to the social agenda, in the midst of job losses and the economic crisis impacting people’s livelihoods worldwide. Marginalized populations and women are disproportionately impacted by the COVID crisis. Executive compensation and tax practices are coming under increased scrutiny in the US, although this has been a topic for stakeholders in Europe for a while now.
Back in April, we looked at what stakeholders were talking about online and on social media, leveraging our partnership with Polecat, which provides a big data tool to analyse global discourse. We found that online media focused on some of the topics you would expect – procurement of medical supplies and the labor market. The social media conversation on the other hand was paying acute attention to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and how not all are equal in the face of this crisis. One month later, the killing of George Floyd sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement.
Of course COVID-19 has affected the way we engage as well, shifting from in-person to virtual and leveraging technology to do so," comments Charlotte Bancilhon, Associate Director, BSR.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.