The essential 'constant' of stakeholder-engagement - not just in the nuclear sector
Collins dictionary defines ‘stakeholders’ as “a person or group not owning shares in an enterprise but affected by or having an interest in its operations, such as the employees, customers, local community, etc” . Without digging much deeper, this definition alone makes it clear that stakeholder engagement has to be long-term., meaning, as long as either the stakeholders moves outside of the company’s operational impact or the company seizes to to exist or create impact on others.
Why, then, do organisations approach stakeholder engagement as a project or as a seasonal ‘social activity’? Stakeholder engagement must be at the core of business strategies and must be designed with a constant in mind. Each organisation, by default, creates a micro-community. The life-blood of every community is communication. When communication fails, communities crumble. When communication no longer emanates from an organisation to its stakeholders - hard-earned trust is broken and doubt creeps in.
Communication has to take on the form of a constant when delivering stakeholder engagement strategies. It must include careful and ongoing listening, generous and engaging outward communication and ongoing evaluation of content delivered on both sides. Relationships - strong relationships - can only be formed and nurtured through active, interactive and ongoing communication. Leaders, organisations and communications professionals must be in it for the long-term. There is no second best approach, no magic bullet. Stakeholder engagement is hard work. The results will speak for themselves.
The IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency) study on “Stakeholder Involvement Throughout the Life Cycle of Nuclear Facilities” (1) states “Particularly for nuclear technology related programmes and facilities, emphasis must be placed on trust by the community (local or national) of the organizations and institutions involved in the process. Reliability, responsibility and fairness are attributes that foster trust in those participants in decision making processes. When members of the public have personal experience or knowledge related to a potential or perceived risk, they make up their own minds. However, when they lack direct experience with a potential risk, they rely on the people they trust . Therefore, an important element in creating trust is the perceived credibility of the responsible organization and of the reviewing agency or agencies . “
It is here that stakeholder strategies must invest in creating trust and evidencing reliability and competence. The nuclear industry is an example par excellence, but not a reason for organisations in other industries to be complacent. Nor should businesses supplying the nuclear giants, neglect their own stakeholder relations and leave matters to the ‘big guys’. Rather, each business needs to think about their audiences and engage them in meaningful conversation, while ensuring their communication is also not created in a vacuum, but within their industry’s wider market place.
Communication advisors need to continuously guide the conversation around stakeholders and encourage deep listening so as to help create a pro-active rather than reactive response. It is their single-mindedness and consistency in the pursuit of true dialogue that will help set organisation’s on a long-term course of communication and interactivity and ultimately help create the trust businesses need to succeed while also positively contributing to the communities they are part of.
Zeitgeist Communication delivers strategic Public Relations and Stakeholder engagement. Contact us to find out how we can support your business engage in meaningful and effective conversations.