You can't please everyone...
Updated: May 26, 2020
...but I’ll die trying! :)
I recently got asked by a workshop participant, how do you know how far to go with stakeholder engagement when the party seems to be unprepared to change their point of view or want to meaningfully engage?
Unfortunately, there’s no one easy answer to this question as anything worth doing is hard and can’t be cookie-cuttered into a replicable format. The Social Licence Consulting philosophy to achieve the best outcomes is to humanise how we engage by being genuinely interested in improving outcomes for all involved, impacted and affected by your business. This requires a cultural shift that can be uncomfortable because it means being prepared to change and pivot your business to meet the needs of your stakeholders. In its simplest form it’s about doing the right thing by all.
The trick with ‘being good’ is that it requires you to ‘be brave’. Sometimes compromise isn’t good for your business’s bottom line in the short term and it is hard to see past that if you're only focused on short term goals and financial year-end reports. If you’re willing to invest in consistent meaningful stakeholder engagement, it isn’t a box-ticking exercise where you feign to be listening but are really waiting to respond for your own benefit. It requires a genuine desire to move forward together knowing that without stakeholders we don’t have a business.
One massive disclaimer here. Not all stakeholders are created equal. Some are more impacted and can impact your business more than others and this can change on a dime. This is why it’s important to keep track of your stakeholder network using stakeholder mapping tools. It can help you figure out where to focus your time and energy and when you need to compromise more than you’d wish.
Countless references to Aesop’s fable (The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass) throughout social licence literature warns that in seeking to meet everyone’s needs you are most likely to end up achieving satisfaction for no-one, including yourself. This is most important to be aware of when it comes to activists who sit on the far end of the spectrum. There are some that rely on conflict to stay financially viable. Most lobby groups start with the best intentions and ideals that can get lost in the bid to get funding and stay afloat rather than achieve something that gets them closer to that bigger picture. It’s the same with any corporation as you grow you are responsible for more people and your ability to compromise is tightened. Lobby groups play an important role however in keeping businesses honest and focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR).
While it is better to focus time and energy on those that sit on the fence, who are still able to genuinely engage, you mustn't forget the importance and value of engaging and listening to those of extreme views and consider where they are coming from. Diversity of thought is not just required in the boardroom (and amongst staff) it comes from stakeholders too, who, given the time and safe space, can help you improve your business.
My view is that these people are stakeholders for a reason and you can use that to your advantage (and theirs), to find common ground and workable solutions, or you can continue with blinkers on and hope your business remains relevant for the foreseeable future.