Over the past 20 years, I’ve been working with clients all around the world, beginning my career on pipeline projects in Africa and these days working with global consumer goods and transport multinationals. Although each industry has its own specificities, I’ve noticed that when it comes to handling their stakeholder engagement activities, the industry doesn’t matter anymore: what we need to focus on to ensure the success of the implementation of best practices is the organization’s level of maturity for data management.
Embracing new data management technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) can support the implementation of best practices in the context of social and environmental performance for corporations with multiple sites. It’s also become necessary to manage social performance data, which has become such an important factor for proactive and strategic decision-making.
The challenges of an interconnected world
Today’s world is interconnected. People are aware of the activities of corporations located thousands of kilometers away. They have opinions about these organizations and their operations. It’s now possible for people to (at different degrees) influence the course of a corporation’s project or program in a much shorter period of time than a decade ago when information was flowing more slowly across the different stakeholders involved.
This can go in either direction at any point in time: people are not necessarily complaining about a corporation’s activities all the time. Most times, these activities can lead to creating shared-value for all important stakeholder groups. But when they don’t want to leave the outcomes to good luck or faith, corporations need to perform well at positioning themselves and finding where they stand.
Identifying key stakeholder groups
At the end of the day, people involved in social performance within large organizations inherit today’s inevitable and crucial responsibilities of:
- Identifying who are the impacted people
- Who are the most important stakeholder groups
- What is their opinion on the project or program
- How that is evolving
- How that is being influenced
- What it is that people and society expect from this corporation in its particular geographical context
- What are their challenges
- How would they like to be respected, genuinely
Society evolves and what seemed good for it yesterday might shift quite rapidly. In that sense, a corporation’s stakeholder engagement focus has got to be on true respect, mutual understanding, and doing its best to accommodate aspirations when possible. Furthermore, it’s also very important to be able to say no when something does not fit the values and mission of the corporation, or when saying yes would be short-term sympathy that ends up creating a longer-term liability.
4 levels of maturity
So, how does an organization establish its maturity level for data management of social performance and stakeholder engagement?
Well, first, you must analyze where you’re at. Are you even keeping track of your social and environmental performance activities? Are there some processes in place to help you get the big picture? Or are you starting from scratch?
Here are the 4 levels of maturity that we have found to be the most logical, with most organizations falling under one of the levels.
Ground Level – No digital trail
Organizations at this level are working with little to no paper/digital trail; strategic information is stocked in people’s heads. There is no institutional memory, as staff comes and goes, so does information. There is no possible way to trace what was said and agreed during public consultations or formal/informal meetings, etc.
Level 1 – Ad Hoc – Focus on data collection
Organizations at Level 1 are collecting data here and there, but information is not centralized, and in different formats (Excel, Word, SharePoint/DMS, Emails, Photos, PDF/Scans, Access type database). It’s usually a rambling initiative from one or multiple teams/departments.
Level 2 – Reporting with lagging indicators, project-focused
At this level, there is a defined approach with some business processes to guide teams. Follow-up metrics allow the monitoring of activities with an overview of the situation. Some sites might use a system, while others use something else: we often notice here a disconnection between reporting across sites.
Level 3 – Performance at the corporate level – Integration with sites
Organizations at Level 3 often have an operational system that both sites and corporate management are using. This approach relies on corporate-driven systems that take into account site specificities. Management uses data on a regular basis to assist decision-making. The company has clear social leading indicators.
Keeping in mind long-term goals
Remember, corporations want to be there for the long-run, so they must find ways to make sure they know who are their key supporters and detractors, their evolving expectations, and most importantly how these fit (or not) with the corporation’s mission and values.
If you are a corporation operating in multiple countries, chances are that you want to increase your activities within a country or even expand your activities elsewhere. What is it the host community or nation does not quite like in your approach when it comes to shared benefits? What if your competitor plans on the same objectives but is more appreciated with the most important stakeholder groups?
While these are slow movements, with changes taking place over a longer period of time, there is a risk that in the longer-term they may also influence a company’s ability to increase its profitability, its desire to grow, and even its capacity to survive.
This is the reality that faces all of our customers as well as an ever-growing number of companies and industries that are confronted with similar challenges related to social acceptance and the genuine creation of shared-value. They have to be constantly aware of where they are positioned in their own market, develop tactics to keep activities or operations running all while keeping host communities feeling truly respected and listened to.
Over the years, we have seen many different responses to this challenge from the corporate world. Different strategies and tactics will lead to different results, of course. What trends can we identify when it comes to multi-site corporations trying to survive and to be authorized to proceed by their most important stakeholder groups?
At Boréalis, we’ve been working with clients for over 15 years, helping them make sense of their stakeholder engagement data in order to better assess their social and environmental performance. Contact us today to learn more about the tools we can provide to help support your operations!