By Lynda Bourne
Stakeholder engagement is an essential part of project management. Chances are your organization focuses on stakeholder engagement but uses another name for the activity.
From an organizational perspective, stakeholder engagement is a means to achieving outcomes increasingly seen as necessary to comply with various rules and regulations or meet customer or community expectations. Here are some terms you’ve probably heard that have stakeholder engagement at their core.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Stakeholders increasingly have expectations about the behavior and responsibilities of organizations that go beyond the provision of jobs and products or services. CSR is generally defined as the continuing commitment by an organization to improve the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.
The social responsibilities of organizations arise in the context of stakeholder relationships. No two organizations are likely to have the exact same set of responsibilities, because each organization has different products, services and strategies and therefore different combinations of stakeholders and stakeholder interests and issues.
Sustainability in an organizational context goes beyond environmental issues to include every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural and economic environment. It is a business approach that creates long-term consumer and employee value and directly contributes to the sustainability of the organization itself.
The Triple Bottom Line (TBL)
TBL is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. These three divisions are also called the three Ps: people, planet and profit, or the "three pillars of sustainability." Many corporations are required to report in the TBL framework as part of their exchange listing rules.
(The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 26000:2010: Guidance on social responsibility, and the Global Reporting Initiative’s closely aligned guidelines set out the framework for social responsibility and guidelines for reporting, respectively.)
What This Means for Project Managers
As project managers, we don’t always have input to organizational policies, but we are at the cutting edge of organizational change. Many projects have a significant impact on stakeholders outside of the organization.
Therefore if your organization’s executives are using any of the terms detailed above and are “walking the talk,” you need to make sure your project activities support the organization’s overall stakeholder engagement philosophy.
Project failures such as the tailings dam disaster in Brazil last month can undo decades of work by an organization to establish a reputation as a good corporate citizen. Building such a reputation is not purely altruistic!
ISO 26000 suggests organizations that practice CSR and sustainability and focus on the TBL have a distinct competitive advantage that includes:
- Ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
- Maintenance of employee morale, commitment and productivity
- Positive views of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
- Good relationships with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.
In summary: Project managers cannot create corporate policy. But if the organization is focused on its TBL, the wise project manager will make sure his or her project plan includes proactive stakeholder engagement, and view that engagement as part of a much larger picture.
How much focus does your organization place on stakeholder engagement? How much does it care about CSR, sustainability and the TBL?