But the trend also reflects a growing awareness of the interdependencies between a company and its stakeholders. For all the hype, though, I see few truly new or bold approaches to stakeholder dialogues.
The business world is overflowing with stakeholders. It’s no surprise that companies first look to their customers, investors and employees, given that any company that neglected these groups would soon lose its livelihood.
Employees, in particular, are highly regarded as stakeholders
Employees, in particular, are highly regarded as stakeholders today due to demographic trends and the looming shortage of skilled professionals.
NGOs and their professional lobbyists are also in high demand. Environmental and human rights organizations are no longer able to keep up with the interest and now take their pick of companies with whom they wish to have a dialogue. This means that your company needs to offer attractive formats so they don’t come away empty-handed in their search for dialogue partners in civil society.
On the flip side you need to carefully select the stakeholders who are most relevant to says Harvard business professor Robert G. Eccles – and to stand with them publicly. “You can’t attend to everyone,” Eccles said. I have yet to see anyone actually make such a clear commitment for or against certain potential stakeholders. But one thing I think you could try is holding dialogues with fewer stakeholders.
Social media can simplify communication for all the partners in a dialogue. But this requires new, engaging and transparent formats: Too many digital surveys, for example, are no more interesting than old-fashioned paper questionnaires. Here’s an idea: use the Web to provide information about sustainability – and discuss it online – in real time.
At the end of the day this is really about recognizing new stakeholder groups. For example, other companies in your industry are undoubtedly important stakeholders. After all, don’t you shape the business segment together with them? Yes, I know, there are antitrust issues to keep in mind. That’s a well-known problem. But I’m still surprised that so far businesses are not seeing competitors as stakeholders as well.
Sectoral dialogue is highly significant for the logistics industry in particular. This could involve comparing measurement methods and their results, exploring totally new transportation systems or sharing transportation solutions for the “last mile.” Society would benefit from this industry dialogue and the development of joint strategies without creating unfair competition.