There is a growing awareness of the need for enterprises to connect more strategically and authentically with communities affected by their operations. This assists enterprises to constantly cultivate their reputation. An obvious example of this is the appreciation leading enterprises now have that their corporate social responsibility or sustainability programs cannot be purely a marketing exercise; positive outcomes for social and environmental causes are now expected by the wider society.
Yet, countless enterprises still struggle to comprehend how their operations and staff behaviour can leave stakeholders aggrieved or worse, outraged.
Case studies sharing learnings on projects where there has been stakeholder outrage can be very sensitive to share. But the learnings from a recent outrage management masterclass at the 4th National Stakeholder and Community Relations Officers’ Forum are highly relevant.
Through gaining an understanding of the context, participants’ enterprises would be enabled to start the journey towards making a positive impact within affected communities. That was a key realisation for participants –representing sectors as diverse as mining, government, energy, retail and utilities – in understanding why their enterprises struggle to overcome community resistance.
They acknowledged that enterprises too often view situations from their own perspective only. However, by deepening relationships with concerned stakeholders, particularly those you would rather avoid, different perspectives on issues can be unearthed and “dangerous” assumptions within an enterprise can be debunked.
Accordingly, enterprises can experience an epiphany, appreciating that stakeholders actually feel that a controversial issue is controlled by the enterprise alone, is unfamiliar, or leaves them with dread. Alternatively, there may be a realisation that the enterprise, itself, has not been trusted or commonly, not responsive.
This allows for the design and delivery of a more effective and engaging strategic direction.
There was a need for masterclass participants to develop a stakeholder engagement narrative for their enterprises that could be understood and engage the affected, internally. A group discussion came to an agreement that all too often enterprises are hampered by an inability to take a strategic approach, instead creating incoherent action plans that aim to do too much and yet, achieve too little. Strategy involves making difficult choices about where effort will be focussed (or alternatively, not focussed) to achieve the best results with limited staff, time and money.
And a strategy needs to be moulded into a narrative because too often, no one understands the strategic direction and where effort should be directed. Don’t ever understate the power of stories!
Understanding the context discussed above also helps enterprises to develop a strategy that has the right fit with the “inside” and “outside” environments in which they operate.
Otherwise their enterprises’ cultures could eat a narrative or strategy for breakfast. A discussion in relation to the matrix below highlighted just how many of the participants viewed their enterprises as having cultures that could be characterised as being internally focussed and placed too much importance on control and order (bottom left-hand corner of the matrix).
And when it comes to being subjected to outrage, it is all too common for enterprises to have a hierarchy culture.
The participating enterprises realised that, in order to resolve their outrage challenge, they would have to act like an adhocracy culture; one that is externally focussed, dynamic and most importantly, creative. But, it is not easy to instigate behaviours that contradict the norm. It requires real commitment from a company’s leaders.
Employing compassion and empathy will also help them facilitate external engagement. Dealing with outrage is never easy. And sometimes it is just too confusing to understand what stakeholders are really after.
Those experiencing outrage have come to that emotion for at least one reason. And more often than not, it is the behaviour of an enterprise that has created that situation. So, participants strongly connected with the importance of trying to see things from the viewpoint of the affected; put yourself in their shoes and compassionately try and unearth their values by taking a genuine interest in them.
And appreciating the implications of sharing control is paramount. This was identified as being a significant challenge for the enterprises represented. Participants recalled the culture matrix, specifically hierarchy cultures, who place great stock on control and stability. For such cultures, sharing control in order to build trust with outraged stakeholders is not only scary, but also flies in the face of everything their enterprise does.
In such cases, enterprises may need to become very methodical when it comes to involving stakeholders.
Through taking a collaborative, empowering approach, they can make a truly positive impact.