If you think your reputation is important, then think about your stakeholders
Stakeholder communication. Are you (already) working as a communication or PR professional? I often see organizations shying away from criticism. Yet, I believe that organizations that listen much earlier to this (often valuable) criticism, can turn it into opportunities. And this is precisely where stakeholder communication plays a role. That’s because organizations are becoming increasingly dependent on (the opinion of) the world around them. I believe that stakeholder thinking will become higher on the agenda in the not too distant future. The time is ripe for it. In fact, suppliers, customers, employees, social parties, government, etc. are going to demand it from us.
Stakeholder communication is about involving stakeholders in your strategy development from an early stage. So not only when someone reports a complaint, but preferably already when you develop your (communication) strategy. If the most important stakeholders think along with you, your policy will be better received. It prevents blind spots and garners support. By entering into a stakeholder dialogue early, you exert influence without power and your reputation is driven by how you maintain your relationships. The NS is a good example of stakeholder communication. In their annual report they explain what they do to involve stakeholders.
The necessity of stakeholder thinking becomes greater as the power shifts more towards the people outside your organization. Many organizations have entered a sustainable transition and need the outside world to get feedback on whether they are on the right track, or whether there is room for improvement. A communication department offers no protection from what the outside world says or writes about you. People expect you to participate in the sustainable transition and do not hesitate to complain about you via (social) media or to sue you if they see reason for it. A current example of this is ExxonMobil which has been taken to court for misleading its own investors. The ‘capricious, critical’ outside world makes it difficult and expensive for you to control your reputation. By allowing all your stakeholders to share their views in advance through a dialogue, you know what is going on and you can adjust your policy accordingly and avoid complications.
If you want to use stakeholder communication properly, it is important that you involve all stakeholders; even those you have not chosen yourself and especially those stakeholders who have a different opinion. People with different opinions prevent you from ending up with tunnel vision, whereby you, for example, only strive to meet the wishes of the shareholders and nobody else.
Take, for example, the Dutch veal chain producer, VanDrie Group. In a Zembla broadcast, a (one-sided) image was painted about how the producer only listens to parties from whom they (want to) receive money (government, customers) and not to the 4,000 dairy farmers (and calve suppliers) who have signed a petition. This is due to the large-scale import and monopolistic position of the VanDrie Group that structurally ensures a very low calf price.
The more connections you make with people who do not fit your mold, the more dimensions of reality you uncover and the quicker you can solve such problems. VanDrie, for example, could have limited its reputation damage by listening earlier on to the dairy farmers and looking for sustainable animal-friendly solutions in the country, together.
In writing this blog, I was inspired by the book, ‘Start met wie’ by Paul Stamsnijder and by my 20 years of experience in communication and PR. I am passionate about contributing to achieving a common truth, where there is respect for everyone’s opinion.
Are you also interested in further exploring the topic of stakeholder thinking and communication? And to talk about it with me? Then let us know via a direct message or email. If there’s enough interest, then I will organize an interview on this subject.