Absa: exploring the fundamentals of stakeholder engagement
The fundamentals of stakeholder engagement
In its most basic form, stakeholder engagement is centred around the cultivation and maintenance of mutually beneficial relationships with those that have both a direct or indirect impact on an organisation. With this in mind, Ntyatyi Petros, Head of Group Stakeholder Relations at Absa Group explains to Business Chief that “stakeholder engagement is a critical value-creating process that furthers the growth ambitions of a company.” These types of engagements develop meaningful platforms to share information about a company’s business, social, political and physical environment, as well as its plans and processes. “Stakeholder engagement is an iterative process that involves ongoing engagement, monitoring, evaluation, and re-engaging with stakeholders to reinforce key messages,” adds Petros.
The benefits of stakeholder management
The creation of trust
“Without trust, very little business can take place,” comments Petros. Stakeholder engagement improves the understanding of the interests and expectations of key stakeholders as well as generating shared values.
A social licence to operate
“In the business world, stakeholder engagement is essential to the bottom line,” says Petros. If done correctly and consistently stakeholder engagement gives an organisation a social licence to operate, enabling stakeholders to advocate for the company.
The challenges of stakeholder management
When it comes to stakeholder engagement, commitment, time, and the ability to prioritise and allocate resources for maximum impact is a challenge. “Effective engagement can be compromised by an ability or willingness of stakeholders to move beyond their own narrow sectoral interests,” comments Petros.
The assumption of a ‘one off event’
Stakeholder engagement is not a ‘one off event’. Petros explains that “it takes a great deal of patience, effort and proactive engagement to shift negative stakeholders into a positive disposition and keep them as allies.”
When it comes to getting the most out of stakeholder engagement operations, Petros explains that engagements “must be underpinned by frank and consistent dialogue with stakeholders to listen, learn, understand and influence the relationship to get the best outcome for both parties.” As a result a strategy must coincide with a policy that will guide engagement to be meaningful, consistent and ongoing, to avoid confusion, duplication and resource wastage. “Organisations must be clear from the start what they seek to achieve from engagement with stakeholders. They must understand what is important to a varied group of stakeholders and importantly, how they must engage them to get the best influence.”
Stakeholder engagement strategy checklist:
- identify all stakeholders that are critical to the business
- Profile the critical stakeholders, ascertaining their disposition towards the company. Are they allies, hostile or neutral towards the company? Should they be advocates of the company?
- Develop a communication and engagement model that is underpinned by the company’s key messages
- Ntyatyi Petros, Head of Group Stakeholder Relations, Absa Group
Exploding the fundamentals
With the entrant of fast-evolving technological capabilities, Petros identifies that “technology has exploded and fundamentally changed the way people connect, which is evident in stakeholder engagement.” With the availability of multiple channels of engagement - each with their own benefits and challenges - stakeholder engagement professionals need to be able to choose the most appropriate channels of communication in order to maintain the fundamental purpose of stakeholder engagement. “Engagement is no longer a top-down process, companies are seeing greater demand for consultation and meaningful engagement from their stakeholders. There is constant change and the external environment is shifting rapidly,” adds Petros.
Another distinctive shift in stakeholder engagement operations highlighted by Petros is “stronger collaboration between different professionals e.g. stakeholder engagement managers, media relations managers, social media specialists and managers of corporate social investment to give stakeholders a holistic experience.” Following the impact of COVID-19, Petros expects the shift of ‘embeddedness’ into everyday business decision-making, when it comes to stakeholder engagement to continue to increase. “There is already an appreciation of the need for collaboration and co-creation of solutions. A trend that I am seeing is the recognition that stakeholders must put greater effort in leveraging each other’s strengths to obtain greater impact and work towards achieving common goals.”
Reflecting on stakeholder engagement, Petros sees greater use of data, data analytics and other intelligence gathering mechanisms in its future to improve decision making. “Stakeholder engagement is already increasingly seeking to predict and anticipate emerging risks and scenarios to introduce better insights into the organisation,” comments Petros, who concludes that, “stakeholder engagement is becoming increasingly about holding each other accountable and ensuring that we retain our commitments and moral authority. Previously, stakeholders would be reluctant to hold companies to account for fear of losing relationship benefits. However, stakeholders are becoming much more emboldened.”