What does your CEO want to see in your Stakeholder Engagement Strategy?

Stakeholder engagement can seem like such a waste of time to the Executive Office. Lots of talking, no demonstrable increase in value or revenue, and it’s all about the touchy-feely stuff.

This is how you go about making sure your CEO understands the value that Stakeholder Engagement is delivering to your organisation:

What is stakeholder engagement?

Create a clear distinction between customer relationship management, public affairs, public participation and marketing on the one hand and stakeholder engagement on the other. The other disciplines are important and will support the stakeholder engagement agenda, but they are not synonyms for stakeholder engagement. They have a different approach and a different lifecycle, with different outcomes. Your role at meetings and in conversations is to correct that confusion.

The Line of Sight

The CEO stakeholder engagement Line of Sight is helpful in presenting the stakeholder world to your CEO. We will examine it below.

The Strategy

The first thing is to demonstrate how the stakeholder engagement strategy will support the Corporate Business Strategy. Marketing has a marketing strategy, Manufacturing has a manufacturing strategy. Your stakeholder engagement strategy must be tightly linked to the Corporate Strategy. Spell it out. If you see a stakeholder engagement document that starts off with a detailed description of Government departments, you know that they have lost the plot. You work for your employer, not for government.

The Issues

Your CEO wants to see a detailed analysis of the Issues facing the organisation. These must be in sufficient detail so that he or she can understand how it is viewed from both sides, and what the successful outcomes will look like. Four bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation do not constitute a detailed issues analysis. This is really hard to do, so your early attempts will not be perfect. Keep at it!

In summary, your CEO wants to know what issues are going to negatively affect the business, [make it lose money!] and it’s good if you have some positive issues in there as well. The issues must be prioritised and presented in such a fashion so that the relative significance of each can be evaluated. A list of 20 issues in bullet point form has no value at all. As I regularly say to my clients: your stakeholders won’t put you out of business, but the issues will! So make sure your CEO understands the issues and has assimilated the interpretation of those issues.

The Stakeholders

Then your CEO wants to see where these issues reside. Which stakeholders have what issues? Are similar issues spread across a number of stakeholders? Are critical issues concentrated in a small number of stakeholders? Here too a systematic stakeholder analysis is required. What is the history of the relationship? What is the desired outcome of engagement? Does the stakeholder want to engage? The relationship between stakeholders should be presented in such a fashion so that the relative significance of each can be evaluated. This is the realm of the frequently misunderstood stakeholder map. You role is to make your CEO comfortable with the content and interpretation of the stakeholder map.

Engagement Behaviours

So far your CEO understands what stakeholder engagement is, what the issues are and who the stakeholders are. What now? You need to describe the engagement behaviours. You need to demonstrate who in the organisation is going to engage with which stakeholder and how they are going to go about it? A list of meetings is no good. Sometimes you will negotiate, sometimes you will merely inform, other times you will set up a joint project team, and other times there will be shared governance structures. It has to tie back to the stakeholder, the issue to be addressed, and the desired outcome. [Note the Outcome is not the same as the Output!] Matters such as tone of voice, attitude and body language play a part. Now an aside: The King IV Code is a remarkable contribution. It lays emphasis on the quality of stakeholder relationships, and this is a very good thing. Unfortunately many practitioners have taken this to mean that all relationships with stakeholders must be warm and harmonious, and that there is one set of standard criteria to evaluate the quality of all stakeholder relationships. The real world is not like this. The qualitative dimensions of a ‘good’ relationship with a regulator is very different to a ‘good’ relationship with a militant social media community. Your role is to interpret all this to the CEO and provide discrete and constructive feedback.

Support and Implementation

Now your CEO has a strong appreciation of the domain of your stakeholder engagement strategy. But you need to have the support and implementation mechanisms in place. This includes Gantt charts and action plans, performance contracts and reports, communication plans and impact reviews. You need to show your CEO that you have these under control. Budgets must be costed. Stakeholder-facing staff must have suitable performance goals and targets. Regular reports must go to the board and EXCO; and then there’s the Annual Integrated Report. Don’t forget training; issues and stakeholder analysis are a unique skills set. Incorporate risk management, this is how you co-opt the CFO! All this is the minutiae of successful operations management. Master it, do it well. It will bolster your personal credibility. If your budget is skimpy, emphasise the issues and the related risks. Demonstrate how your budget and actions will mitigate those risks. Confront your CEO with some reality testing: if we don’t manage this issue well, the following downside will result. If the answer still is no, you will have the privilege of saying “I told you so’ later on.


Best of luck in converting your CEO to your strongest supporter! Let me know how you get on.


Author: James Forson

James Forson spends a great deal of time near the centre of an intricate Venn diagram where management consulting, fiction and business writing, social investment governance, home-grown vegetables and procrastination overlap.