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Building Trust: Translating Stakeholder Dialogue into Practice

dialogue2This week, Environmental Leader is presenting a five part series by Jonathan Ballantine entitled “Building Trust in Corporate Responsibility.”

Here is Part Five, “Translating Stakeholder Dialogue into Practice.”

Stakeholder engagement is only the first of many steps in building trust and confidence with stakeholders.

All stakeholders will want to know that their concerns have been heard and, ideally, embraced upon. Closing the loop is perhaps the most critical step of the stakeholder engagement process. However, as corporate responsibility often deals with intangible risks or, at least, difficult to quantify risks, it becomes even more problematic to make sure all the numbers add up to deliver the result stakeholders supposedly want.

Something not be underplayed is that no matter how much senior management talks about the need to listen and respond to stakeholders, there is still a very strong element of senior people who believe one of the reasons they are paid so much is because they know how best to manage the business. “If they have to rely on stakeholders doesn’t that partly undermine their claims to competence – and therefore large salaries,” said Paul Burke, Senior Partner, Acona.

In recent years, some P&G stakeholders have asked for more information on product safety, and how it is assessed.

“We recognized that continuing questions about the safety of chemicals meant that industry must take a more collaborative and open approach,” said Peter White, Director of Global Sustainability for P&G.

This led to a series of stakeholder workshops and the development of websites such as Science in the Box to get this information out to those stakeholders seeking it.

In January of 2008, P&G’s Baby Care division in Western Europe held an expert advisory panel on sustainability, consulting with leading sustainability influencers, NGOs, and experts. The event aimed to dive deep into key strengths and opportunities on Baby Care’s approach to sustainability, share progress, gain input on the division’s strategy, determine how to address carbon footprinting, and identify support to help communicate meaningfully with consumers, customers, and other stakeholders. The panel yielded insightful consultation that influenced Baby Care’s strategy and communications, and future direction.

The group received support for its Sustainability Strategy, gained traction on its emerging communication plans, and achieved strong agreement on how to address carbon footprint and labeling. Baby Care will continue to further nurture and build on its relationship with participating panelists.

P&G receives approximately eight million consumer requests per year, typically through traditional channels. The well-established Careline Services enables consumers to talk to or communicate with an experienced advisor, this coupled with “out of hours” technology has been a success – enabling P&G to communicate effectively with more consumers, which of course provides more insights that help them improve products, services and business processes, White said.

“We are continuously innovating to ensure that these insights get to our business teams. We understand the world is changing and aim to better serve our consumers so we can feel the power of a real consumer voice,” White added.

Output from stakeholder engagements played an integral role in the development of Unilever’s Brand Imprint – an initiative that has been created to help marketing consider how social, economic and environmental issues present risks and opportunities for the business. For each brand a multidisciplinary team conducts a detailed assessment, looking first at the direct and indirect impacts of their products, or their “imprint,” across the value chain. Unilever’s major brands and categories have now completed a Brand Imprint. This has resulted in important commitments and inspired new ideas for addressing social and environmental issues.

MAN Group value its employees as the most important stakeholder, said Michael Robinson, Global Head of Resource. This is demonstrated by the firm’s explicit commitment to employment practices, professional development, health & safety and work/life balance.

“Our most important stakeholder is our people – our people are our brand and our Corporate Responsibility
Programme reinforces this,” Robinson said.

To develop this resource MAN Group runs a number of workshops in association with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust both in London and Switzerland. ¨We organize these workshops simply because it is the right thing to do, but the program also supports our ‘Employer of Choice’ strategy and evidences one element in the mitigation of a key business risk for us – our people,” said Rob Challis, Global Head of Responsibility.

This internal bias is an interesting approach to take and could help improve an organization’s reputation. At the heart of every service or communication between an organization and its external stakeholders there are internal human touch points. Codes of conduct and corporate governance can only be effective to a point. The perceived reputation of an organization/brand will be influenced by the service levels provided by the people employed there, who are in every sense a part of the brand.

Click here for Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four of the series.

Jonathan Ballantine is a European-based business engagement specialist – advising private sector firms, business consultants and NGOs on corporate responsibility issues, including brokering collaborative partnerships between business and NGOs, stakeholder engagement and outreach communications.

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