Tag Archives: Stakeholders

Practical Ethics 2

EthicsA couple of weeks ago I posted Practical Ethics discussing the undue reliance governments and others  place on other people’s ethics, Through naivety, undue optimism, or laziness, they set up situations based on blind trust in the ethical standards of others which have resulted in deaths, injury and the loss of $billions.

In this post I want to look inside an organisation and discuss reason why Determining the ethics of the organisation is at #2 in my Six Functions of Governance and Creating the culture of the organisation is at #3.  #1 in the list is Determining the objectives of the organisation.

The underlying approach I’ve taken, founded in stakeholder theory, is the presumption that the best way to achieve an organisation’s objectives is to work with the organisation’s full spectrum of stakeholders so they contribute to the success of the organisation and everyone benefits. This requires a strong ethical foundation and an outwardly focused culture. The role of the governing body is to set the objectives and create the organisation’s culture and ethics, the role of management is to work within this framework to achieve the objectives. Whilst many aspects of governance can be delegated to a degree, setting the ethical standards of the organisation in particular is non-transferable. It starts and stops at the top – with the governing body.

The ethical standards of an organisation are created in two ways:

  • The way the organisation’s leaders act;
  • The ethical standards the leaders are prepared to tolerate in their subordinates.

This post will look at both of these aspects, using the example of the current scandal surrounding Comminsure (the insurance arm of the CBA bank) to highlight their importance – see more on the scandal.

 

Leaders set the standard.

Generally speaking, the top managers in an organisation create a ceiling on ethical behaviours. Leaders at the next level down tend to be rated lower than their managers on every leadership dimension including their honesty and integrity, many may rate equally but it is very rare to find a subordinate acting more ethically than the organisation’s leaders (for more on this see Ethical Leadership).

The key here is the word ‘act’ – leaders set the ethical standards of the organisation by their actions, not their statements. It more than ‘walking-the-talk’, talking is almost irrelevant.

One glaring examples from the Comminsure scandal will serve to demonstrate the issue.  The CBA’s CEO said that he placed a high value on transparency and open communication; this included both encouraging and protecting ‘whistleblowers’ within the bank. A commendable and highly ethical position; and from a practical perspective essential for the minimisation of wrong doing in a workforce of 55,000.

However, actions speak louder than words! In November 2014 the chief medical officer of Comminsure, Dr Benjamin Koh, disclosed his concerns over “an improper state of affairs” concerning aspects of Comminsure’s business to key independent directors at Comminsure including the chairman Geoff Austin. Two months later Comminsure began to investigate Dr Koh and he was sacked by the managing director of Comminsure, Helen Troup, for ‘misconduct’, in August 2015. He is now suing Comminsure and the CBA for unfair dismissal.

The appearance is that the bank’s management won’t fire you for whistle blowing but they will find some other excuse. The bank virtually admits as much, in this statement which states: “Commonwealth Bank encourages all employees to speak up if they see activities or behaviours that are fraudulent, illegal or inconsistent with our values. We provide a number of different safeguards to ensure that there are no negative consequences for raising concerns. We have thanked Dr Koh for raising concerns that led to the CMLA Board conducting a review. Dr Koh’s employment was not terminated for raising concerns. It was terminated primarily for serious and repeated breaches of customers’ privacy and trust involving highly sensitive personal, medical and financial information over a lengthy period of time.”  What they fail to mention was one of major issues raised by Dr. Koh was the manipulation, alteration and loss of information from the records he is accused of mishandling.

The perception may be incorrect, but to anyone looking on from outside of the organisation it would seem the person running Comminsure preferred to sack a whistleblower rather than deal with the problems he raised.

The CEO and the Directors of CBA can talk until they are blue in the face about the ‘ethical standards’ they purport to uphold, their actions speak louder. The person running Comminsure and responsible for the issues raised by Dr. Koh is still in her role, the ‘whistleblower’ is out of a job. If the board really meant what is says, the whistleblower would have been protected and the manager attacking him disciplined. Everyone else in CBA will clearly understand the message.

It really does not matter what the final outcome of all of this is; the actions of CBA and Comminsure management have made it clear to every one of their 55,000 staff that if you raise concerns within the banks ‘whistleblower’ processes you will be fired!

Given this perception, is it any wonder that the leaders of the CBA seem to be continually in the dark about what’s really going on in their organisation……..  Unfortunately for those in governance role not knowing is not an excuse.

 

Tolerating unethical behaviour.

Ethics2The second plank underpinning an ethical organisation is the degree of unethical behaviour it is prepared to tolerate. If an organisation is prepared to tolerate a person increasing his or her bonus by not paying out an insurance claim to a dying person for 3 or 4 years, everyone else in the organisation will understand the acceptable level of behaviour.

Comminsure has been shown to have withheld legitimate payments to claimants for years to boost profits and bonuses (only rectified after the national broadcast was imminent).  As far as I can tell everyone responsible from the managing director down are still in their jobs.

Previously the CBA was shown, courtesy of a Senate enquiry, to have misrepresented information to clients and falsified documents.  Again, most of the people responsible still work for the CBA and the ethical benchmark has been determined by this fact.

If the behaviours were ethically unacceptable people would be fired or moved into roles where they cannot adversely affect customer’s lives. The fact most people are still in their roles and still have their bonus payments from previous years indicates to everyone the CBA believes these behaviours are ethically acceptable and will continue to reward people for placing profits ahead of customers (see The normalisation of deviant behaviours). Management’s actions speak far louder then PR announcements and so called ‘public apologies’ that only eventuate after adverse national publicity.

 

Culture

Culture is ‘the way we do thing around here’ – one of the key elements of culture is the ethical standards people see as ‘normal’; another is the learned experience of how to behave within the organisation. As outlined above these settings are very different from the rhetoric.

But, ethics and culture are always shades of grey; the CBA’s culture is clearly flawed if the bank claims to be concerned about its customers. However, if the CBA is really only concerned with short-term profits, the culture, ethics and PR spin may be appropriate. In the last 6 months, the CBA achieved a remarkable return on equity of above 17 per cent, and a $4.8 billion half-year profit. And, despite the scandal, its shares have increased in price today. The cost is the damaged lives of some of its customers; the unresolved question is what are the acceptable limits? Maybe a Royal Commission will let everyone know.

Legal implications aside, the challenge facing the CBA is that changing culture and ethical standards is a massively difficult task and the people who created and thrive in the current culture are unlikely to be willing participants in changing it.  There’s no easy answer to this dilemma.

 

Conclusion

The real measure of an organisation’s ethical standards are set by the way people behave when no one is looking on – there will always be mistakes and unethical actions by a few, others within the organisation will correct these deviations and being behaviours back inside the culturally acceptable norms of behaviour of the organisation. This has undoubtedly been occurring within CBA and Comminsure on a daily basis, unacceptable behaviours will have been corrected or sanctioned; desired behaviours rewarded. What’s acceptable and unacceptable is determined by the culture of the organisation and its ethical standards.

The ethical standards of an organisation are set by the actions of its leaders. What they do themselves sets the ceiling and what they tolerate in others the floor. The rest of the people in an organisation will generally find a position between these two limits and the culture of the organisation will adapt to see this level of ethical behaviour as acceptable. The problem the governors and leaders of the CBA face is the simple fact that changing the ethics and culture of an established organisation is extremely difficult.

Project Risk Management – how reliable is old data?

One of the key underpinnings of risk management is reliable data to base probabilistic estimates of what may happen in the future.  The importance of understanding the reliability of the data being used is emphasised in PMBOK® Guide 11.3.2.3 Risk Data Quality Assessment and virtually every other risk standard.

One of the tenets underpinning risk management in all of its forms from gambling to insurance is the assumption that reliable data about the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future – there’s no certainty in this processes but there is degree of probability that future outcomes will be similar to past outcomes if the circumstances are similar. ‘Punters’ know this from their ‘form guides’, insurance companies rely on this to calculate premiums and almost every prediction of some future outcome relies on an analogous interpretation of similar past events. Project estimating and risk management is no different.

Every time or cost estimate is based on an understanding of past events of a similar nature; in fact the element that differentiates an estimate from a guess is having a basis for the estimate! See:
–  Duration Estimating
–  Cost Estimating

The skill in estimating both normal activities and risk events is understanding the available data, and being able to adapt the historical information to the current circumstances. This adaptation requires understanding the differences in the work between the old and the current and the reliability and the stability of the information being used. Range estimates (three point estimates) can be used to frame this information and allow a probabilistic assessment of the event; alternatively a simple ‘allowance’ can be made. For example, in my home state we ‘know’ three weeks a year is lost to inclement weather if the work is exposed to the elements.  Similarly office based projects in the city ‘know’ they can largely ignore the risk of power outages – they are extremely rare occurrences. But how reliable is this ‘knowledge’ gained over decades and based on weather records dating back 180 years?

World-Temprature

Last year was the hottest year on record (by a significant margin) as was 2014 – increasing global temperatures increase the number of extreme weather events of all types and exceptionally hot days place major strains on the electrical distribution grids increasing the likelihood of blackouts.  What we don’t know because there is no reliable data is the consequences.  The risk of people not being able to get to work, blackouts and inclement weather events are different – but we don’t know how different.

Dealing with this uncertainty requires a different approach to risk management and a careful assessment of your stakeholders. Ideally some additional contingencies will be added to projects and additional mitigation action taken such as backing up during the day as well as at night – electrical storms tend to be a late afternoon / evening event. But these cost time and money…..

Getting stakeholder by-in is more difficult:

  • A small but significant number of people (including some in senior roles) flatly refuse to accept there is a problem. Despite the science they believe based on ‘personal observations’ the climate is not changing…….
  • A much larger number will not sanction any action that costs money without a cast iron assessment based on valid data. But there is no valid data, the consequences can be predicted based on modelling but there are no ‘facts’ based on historical events……..
  • Most of the rest will agree some action is needed but require an expert assessment of the likely effect and the value proposition for creating contingencies and implementing mitigation activities.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it???? 

The challenge facing everyone in management is deciding what to do:

  • Do nothing and respond heroically if needed?
  • Think through the risks and potential responses to be prepared (but wait to see what actually occurs)??
  • Take proactive action and incur the costs, but never being sure if they are needed???

There is no ‘right answer’ to this conundrum, we certainly cannot provide a recommendation because we ‘don’t know’ either.  But at least we know we don’t know!

head-in-sandI would suggest discussing what you don’t know about the consequences of climate change on your organisation is a serious conversation that needs to be started within your team and your wider stakeholder community.

Doing nothing may feel like a good options – wait and see (ie, procrastination) can be very attractive to a whole range of innate biases. But can you afford to do nothing?  Hoping for the best is not a viable strategy, even if inertia in your stakeholder community is intense. This challenge is a real opportunity to display leadershipcommunication and  negotiation skills to facilitate a useful conversation.

Some ideas for making project management effective and efficient in 2016

SuccessIt’s a New Year and by now most of us will have failed to keep our first set of New Year resolutions! But it’s not too late to re-focus on doing our projects better (particularly in my part of the world where summer holidays are coming to an end and business life is starting to pick up). Nothing in the list below is new or revolutionary; they are just good practices that help make projects successful.

Most projects that fail are set up to fail by the organization and senior management (see:  Project or Management Failures?).  80% of projects that fail don’t have a committed and trained project sponsor. An effective project sponsor will:

  1. Give clear project objectives.
  2. Help craft a well‐defined project scope.
  3. Remove obstacles that affect project success.
  4. Mediate disagreements with other senior stakeholders.
  5. Support the project manager.

The role of the project or program sponsor is outlined in: WP1031 Project & Program Sponsorship.

Customers or end‐users are critically important to the success of ‘their project’. Unfortunately there is an extreme shortage of ‘intelligent customers’.  A ‘good customer’ will:

  1. Help refine the project scope – no one gets it 100% correct first time.
  2. Convey requirements fully and clearly
    (see: WP 1071 Defining Requirements).
  3. Avoid changing their minds frequently.
  4. Adhere to the change management process.

Every project team needs expertise – this is frequently provided by external experts. Subject‐matter experts should:

  1. Highlight common pitfalls.
  2. Help rather than hinder decision making.

The work of the project is done by ‘the team’. A committed and motivated project team will:

  1. Buy into the project’s objectives.
  2. Identify all of the required tasks and ensure the schedule is complete and accurate.
  3. Provide accurate estimates.
  4. Report progress and issues truthfully.
  5. Deliver their commitments.
  6. Focus on achieving the intended benefits
    (see: WP 1023 Benefits and Value).

Finally, the project manager

  1. Recognises that there is no “I” in project and works with the team and stakeholder community to create a successful outcome
  2. Resolves issues and risks that may arise from the 18 items above quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Making Projects WorkAlmost all of the items listed require action by people other than the project manager – this highlights the fact that projects are done by people for people and the key skill required by every project manager is the ability to influence, motivate and lead stakeholders both in the project team and in the wider stakeholder community.

For more on Making Projects Work see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#MPW

Governance processes and terminology

Signpost "Governance"Governance uses a number of terms, this blog is designed to provide a set of referenced definitions for the different terms and suggest a hierarchy for use by an organisation’s governing body.

 

Defining Organisational Governance

Governance:  The use of influence or power to direct, control and regulate the actions and affairs of others. Organisational Governance, developing systems and using influence to direct, control and regulate the actions of the organisation’s management and staff (see: Defining Governance).

Governing: The action of using authority to direct, control and regulate an organisation; and taking responsibility for the performance and conformance of the people within the organisation.

Governing body: the person, group or entity accountable to the organisation’s owners, and the wider stakeholder community, for the performance and conformance of the organisation they govern (eg, a corporation’s Board of Directors).

Conditions Precedent

The conditions needed for developing and implanting an effective governance paradigm are for the governing body to determine the objectives of the organisation and understand the concepts of good governance.

Objective:  A specific result that the organisation aims to achieve within a time frame, using available resources; a goal or target to be achieved. The organisation’s objectives are derived from its vision and mission statement; apply to both the organisation and its governance, and underlie its strategic planning activities. Objectives should be specific and measureable.

Concept:  An abstraction or generalisation from experience or the result of a transformation of existing ideas.  The concept is reified (made real) by all of its actual or potential instances, whether these are things in the real world or other ideas and mediates between thought, language, and referents.

The members of the governing body need to reach consensus on their view of ‘good governance’, in the context of their organisation’s purpose and objectives before being able to move to more concrete developments. Implementing ‘good governance’ requires the creation of an effective framework within the organisation supported by the documentation of the organisations governance objectives.

The Governance Framework

Governance Framework: The system through which the organization’s governance arrangements operate including the management structures, enabling factors and interfaces through which the work of the organisation’s management is directed and controlled and regulated.

Whilst the governing body retains overall accountability for governance, some of the functions required to implement governance throughout the organisation may be delegated to managerial staff or organisational entities under the supervision and control of managerial staff. These delegated governance roles, their responsibilities, authority and interrelationships must be clearly defined; as well as the decision making, oversight, and points of involvement and intervention retained by the governing body. (see: Governance Systems & Management Systems)

Functions: The purpose the system has been created to fulfil or undertake; the purpose of the system.

The function of governance is to establishing the organisation’s objectives, ethics and culture; develop a framework that can implement these factors and require appropriate oversight and assurance processes (see: The Functions of Governance).

The function of management is to use the organisation’s human and other resources to achieve its objectives; working within the parameters set by the governing body (see: The Functions of Management).

Governance functions and management functions may be performed at different levels and in different parts of the organisation, but everyone involved in governance and management have a shared responsibility to work proactively towards achieving the objectives of the organisation; and the governing body remains accountable for the performance and conformance of the organisation.

Documenting governance objectives

The objectives, the governance framework is to implement, need to be defined and documented. The starting point is the concepts of ‘good governance’ agree by the members of the governing body. The concepts need to be ‘made real’ in the form of a set of principles that encapsulate the values, ethics and cultural objectives the governing body intend the organisation to embody (see: Ethics and Leadership). These principles are the further refined and defined in a set of policies, procedures and methodologies.

Principle: A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.  These are the fundamental propositions that define the way the system of governance will operate, and acceptable behaviours for the organisation.

Policy: A document describing what is to be done in particular situation that has been agreed by the organisation’s governing body and management. Policies are clear, simple statements of how the organisation intends to implement its governance principles, and are intended to influence and determine decisions, actions, and other matters.  Policies will frequently link to externally imposed obligations such as laws preventing the bribery of foreign officials. In addition to the policy statement, guidelines may be issued to assist in the implementation of the policy.

Guidelines: A recommended practice that allows some discretion in its interpretation, implementation, or use, intended to assist in achieving a policy outcome or streamline a particular processes according to a set routine or sound practice.

Procedure: An established way of doing something, a series of actions conducted in a certain order or manner.  Procedures document and describe how each policy (or element of a policy) will be put into effect within the organisation. Each procedure should outline:
–  Who will do what
–  What steps they need to take (see: The value of Standard Operating Procedures).

Each procedure may require specific practices or processes to be used to ensure a consistent outcome.

Practice: A method or rule used in a particular field or profession.

Process: A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. Each process takes a set of inputs, and applies defined tools and techniques in a methodological way to the inputs to create outputs.

A series of procedures (plus practices and processes) can be grouped together into a workflow, or methodology.

Methodology: A sequenced series of procedures for delivering an outcome (see: Methodologies). Methodologies describe:
–  What should be done;
–  When it should be done;
–  Who should do the work; and
–  How the work will be accomplished.

In a well governed organisation, it governance principles will influence the design of every methodology, process and procedure used in the conduct of its business.

Governance and ethics

Lost valueBack in June I posted on Governance and Stakeholders focusing on the damage institutions were doing to their stakeholders through on-going governance failures.  Two of the organisations discussed (not for the first time) were the CBA Bank’s ongoing financial advice crisis and FIFA’s corruption, both on-going scandals.

Press articles over the last few days show neither of these problems is being well managed from either the institutions’ perspective or their customers’/stakeholders’ perspectives. The on-going sagas suggest the root cause of the problems is very much a governance failure, but in areas not previously discussed.

The Six Functions of Governance are:

  1. Determining the objectives of the organisation;
  2. Determining the ethics of the organisation;
  3. Creating the culture of the organisation;
  4. Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organisation;
  5. Ensuring accountability by management;
  6. Ensuring compliance by the organisation.

This post will demonstrate the importance of functions 2 and 3.

Starting with FIFA: the stated objective of FIFA is to further the development of soccer (football) world-wide. A noble objective!  However, to a large extent the culture and ethics within FIFA have become focused on individuals obtaining and retaining personal power for the benefit of the ‘powerful person’ – they may believe they are the best possible person for the job, but the evidence suggests otherwise! The use of FIFA’s resources by people in power to achieve this end has already been well documented and whilst of themselves these actions are not necessarily wrong, they have certainly led to a number of high profile prosecutions for corruption. I would suggest the ethical breakdown was driven by the toxic culture focused on achieving and retaining power.

This type of problem is well understood in many similar organisations that I’m familiar with, where there has been a focused effort by the governing body to create a culture of service to the membership / stakeholders.  This has been achieved by placing strict limits on the amount of time any one person can occupy a position of power. Generally there’s a ‘leadership chain’ of one or two ‘vice presidents’ and then the president.  People on this chain have one year terms in each position and move up the ladder progressively (elections are for the lowest ‘rung’ on the ladder).  Similarly, members of the governing body can serve a maximum of two terms of two years and a minimum of 25% of the ‘board’ positions are up for election each year.

This type of governance framework provides both continuity and renewal, and discourages people seeking power for themselves.  Anyone interested in seizing ‘power’ for 10 to 20 years will go elsewhere and find another organisation to participate in. This continual renewal process ensures there are always new ideas and new sets of eyes to ‘see’ any problems that are emerging, balanced by experience to maintain the longer term objective of the organisation. Ethical standards, competency and other matters remain important within a governance framework focused on facilitating the organisation’s objectives.

It will be interesting to see if the inevitable changes in FIFA will move in this direction and then if they use their funding power to drive similar changes through the regional and national organisations. If there’s no structural change, there will be no lasting change in the governance culture and consequently in the culture of the whole organisation.

CBAThe second focus is the CBA bank. Culture is also an issue in the way the CBA bank is treating the people damaged by the toxic culture it encourages in its wealth management division.  The basic rule for dealing with a failure (particularly of this magnitude) is ‘own-up then fix-up’. You need to acknowledge the error and take appropriate actions to rectify the mistake.

The causes of the problems were structural, and are discussed in The normalisation of deviant behaviours, but it took a Senate enquiry to drag a reluctant acknowledgement of the error.  To avoid sanctions, the CBA also agreed to set up a ‘high profile’ unit to compensate the victims of its wealth management advice.  After many months virtually no-one has been compensated and the bank’s approach would appear to be parsimonious at best.

The ‘fix-up’ part of dealing with a problem requires quick and generous restitution as far as is possible. This is relatively easy where then primary loss is financial but runs counter to the bank’s demonstrated culture of not really admitting error accompanied by short-term monetarism.

A quick and generous solution would be to frame a simple calculation and make an offer. The CBA knows how much money was ‘brought to the table’ by their victims, they can easily calculate what that would be worth now if the bank had advised the people to invest in bank term deposits and  they know the value of the money actually returned to the people. A couple of weeks with a decent spreadsheet and everyone could have received a reasonable offer.  There may be a need to add in some costs incurred in fighting for the victims rights and for other losses and damage but the whole problem could be largely resolved by now.

The cost of this type of option will be insignificant compared to the less obvious but real costs associated with the wages and costs associated with the bureaucratic monster the bank has created, the massive on-going damage to the bank’s reputation and ‘brand capital’ and the contingent liabilities for further legal actions and/or government action driven by the bank’s approach to this problem.

I’m not sure how the logic of the bank’s assessment processes are structured but a report in the press this week that some people had only been offered a fee refund highlights an approach focused on minimising payouts rather then solving the problem.  If advice was so bad a refund of the fees paid for the advice is warranted, the advice was bad and liability for the damage it caused would appear to sit with the bank??

How you change the culture in an institution as big as the CBA from a parsimonious focus on paying out money to maximise short-term profits is a challenge of the CBA Board, but if they fail, sooner or later the CBA will fail because its stakeholder community will decide to do business elsewhere.  Just because you are big does not mean you are invulnerable.

Conclusion.

The first three elements in the six functions of governance are there for a reason.  Obviously the objectives of the organisation are its reason for existing and have to come first. Then the governing body has to do the hard work of developing the right set of ethics and the right culture within the organisation’s (making sure its governance framework supports the desired culture) before anything else can really occur. As FIFA in particular demonstrates, failure in these critical aspects of an organisation tarnish everything else is touches.

It is impossible to achieve a ‘customer centric’, stakeholder aware organisation if the culture is focused on power or short-term profits!

Defining Stakeholder Engagement

Two earlier posts have discussed the concepts of stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder Engagement GroupThis post builds on these foundations to look at the tools and techniques of proactive stakeholder engagement. Effective stakeholder engagement is a mutually beneficial process designed to enable better planned and more informed policies, projects, programs and services.

For stakeholders, the benefits of engagement include the opportunity to contribute as experts in their field or ‘users’ of the deliverable, have their issues heard and participate in the decision-making process. This should lead to:

  • Greater opportunities to contribute directly to the development of the outputs from the work;
  • More open and transparent lines of communication, increasing accountability and driving innovation;
  • Improved access to decision-making processes, resulting in the delivery of better outcomes;
  • Early identification of synergies between the stakeholders and the work, encouraging integrated and comprehensive solutions to complex issues.

For the ‘organisation’, the benefits of stakeholder engagement include improved information flows, access to local knowledge and having the opportunity to try out ideas or proposals with stakeholders before they are formalised. This should lead to:

  • Higher quality decision-making;
  • Increased efficiency in and effectiveness of delivery;
  • Improved risk management practices – allowing risks to be identified and considered earlier, thereby reducing future costs;
  • Streamlined development processes;
  • Greater alignment with stakeholder interests – ensuring outputs are delivered in collaboration with stakeholders and provide outcomes which meet their needs;
  • Enhanced stakeholder community confidence in the work being undertaken;
  • Enhanced capacity to innovate.

As with any stakeholder management process, ‘not all stakeholders are equal’ some stakeholders should be engaged because they are important to the work being undertaken, others simply need to be kept informed by appropriate levels of communication (for more on this see The three types of stakeholder communication).

The various levels of stakeholder communication, management and engagement are:

  • Inform: You provide the stakeholder with an appropriate level of communication, generally either PR or reporting.
  • Manage: You direct your communication to achieve a desired change in the attitude of the stakeholder or to manage an emerging situation.
  • Consult: You invite the stakeholder to provide feedback, analysis, and/or suggest alternatives to help develop a better outcome.
  • Involve: You work directly with stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and needs are consistently understood and considered; eg, the business representative involved in an Agile sprint).
  • Collaborate: You partner with the stakeholder to develop mutually agreed alternatives, make joint decisions and identify preferred solutions; eg, typical ‘alliance’ and ‘partnering’ forms of contract.
  • Empower: You place final decision-making in the hands of the stakeholder. Stakeholders are enabled (but also need to be capable) to actively contribute to the achievement of ‘their’ outcomes.

Stakeholder CollaborationThe first three bullets above are Stakeholder Management activities, the last three various levels of Stakeholder Engagement. Deciding which level of interaction is appropriate is a key driver of success, in any project, program or other work, some stakeholders will be best managed by simply keeping them informed, whereas the higher levels of engagement such as collaboration and empowerment require stakeholders with sufficient skills and knowledge to be able to actively participate in the endeavour, and importantly the desire to be involved!

The Stakeholder Circle® methodology provides the foundations needed to understand your stakeholder community and decide on the appropriate level of engagement for the ‘high priority’ stakeholders affected by the work. When you get to ‘Step 4 – Engagement’ the additional questions that need answering include:

  • What is the purpose and desired outcomes of the engagement activity?
  • What level of engagement is required to achieve this outcome – consult, collaborate, empower?
  • What method of engagement will you use?
  • What are the timing issues or requirements?
  • What resources will you need to conduct the engagement?
  • Who is responsible for engagement?
  • What are the risks associated with the engagement?

Finally, as with any stakeholder management process, the success or otherwise of the overall process needs to be reviewed regularly and appropriate adaptation made to optimise outcomes (step 5 in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology)

Summary:

Stakeholder engagement is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to managing stakeholders and needs to be planned into the overall development of the work:

  • Some of the questions outlined above need asking at the very earliest stages of a project or program during the ‘strategic planning phase’ and will affect the way the whole of the work is planned and undertaken.
  • The culture of the organisation undertaking the work will determine how open it is to inviting stakeholder collaboration or engagement, a degree of ‘culture change’ may need to be planned into the work.
  • Stakeholder engagement is always a two-way process, the skills, capability and culture of the key stakeholders will also be a constraint on what is feasible or desirable. You may need a strategy to ‘get the stakeholders on-side’.

Overall time and effort spent on stakeholder engagement will pay dividends (see: Valuing Stakeholder Management), stakeholder engagement is simply the most proactive way of helping your stakeholders to help you deliver their requirements successfully.

The Elements of Stakeholder Engagement

Effective stakeholder engagement is a two-way interactive relationship that encourages stakeholder involvement in the organisation for the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation.  The trend is increasingly clear; organisations that effectively serve the needs of their stakeholders outperform those that do not.

However, what is also apparent is confusion on the part of many managers as to precisely what stakeholder engagement is, and what systems facilitate effective stakeholder engagement.  This post suggests there are three basic systems that together form the foundation for effective stakeholder engagement in most organisations, but the foundations are just that, necessary underpinnings, stakeholder engagement itself rises above the foundations to create an entirely new way of engaging with stakeholders. Let’s start with a look at the three basic components:

Stakeholder Engagement

PR = Public Relations

PR is probably the oldest of the three foundations (particularly if you include advertising within the overall ambit of PR).  For thousands of years people and organisations with something to sell to ‘the public’ have recognised the need to tell potential customers about their offering and suggest there is a good reason for the potential customer to become an actual customer or client.

Camel Market

Smart merchants realised they needed to give potential customers a reason for doing business with them (rather than someone else) and that competing on price alone was not a good move in a crowded market place.

The role of advertising is in part to make potential customers aware of your offering and in part to create a desire for the type of goods or services you are providing. Effective advertising creates a ‘call to action’ which the customer heeds.

Public Relations (PR) has a different focus.  Good PR is built around creating a positive image of the organisation in the minds of its wider stakeholder community. PR is not directly aligned to sales in the way advertising is, but does seek to make the organisation appear to be one that most stakeholders in its target audience will want to be associated with.  This may be because of exclusivity, or status, because the organisation is seen to be ‘good’, or for any one of a dozen other reasons.  Effective PR has many purposes including:

  • Underpinning its advertising by creating a ‘good first impression’ of the organisation, thereby allowing the stakeholder to take note of its advertising.
  • Explaining the value of the organisation to a wider community minimising resistance to the functioning of the organisation and facilitating its operations.
  • Making the organisation appear to be a desirable ‘citizen’ within its community; etc.

Good PR is of course authentic and reflective of the true nature of the organisation, in the modern age ‘spin’ is easily uncovered and can be very damaging.

The fundamental nature of both PR and advertising is ‘push’ communication – the organisation pushes its message out to the wider community, hopes someone listens, and then measures its impact after the event with a view to improving the ‘message’ and the effect.

 

CRM = Customer Relationship Management

CRM is focused on providing a great experience to every customer.  The commercial driver for CRM is in part the generally accepted fact that it is far cheaper to retain an existing customer then to attract a new one and in part from a win-win view that the ability to quickly and efficiently service the unique needs of each customer reduces the transaction costs for the organisation.

Customers or clients are clearly stakeholders with a significant interest in the organisation, so focusing effort on providing them with the best possible level of service, delivered quickly and efficiently is a win-win outcome. Happy customers are more likely to recommend an organisation to their friends and colleagues as well as becoming regular clients of the organisation.

Unfortunately the concept of CRM seems to have been hijacked by software systems, overseas call centres and ‘big data’; bought with a view to ‘reducing costs’.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these concepts provided the outcome is improved customer service. Where the outcome is a reduction in service, any cost savings are likely to be offset by reduced business and the cost of attracting new customers to replace the ones lost by poor service.

Whilst CRM at its best is interactive and focused on a win-win outcome for both the organisation and its stakeholders, the stakeholders directly affected by CRM are limited to the organisations customers and clients.

 

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is process focused; it involves planned interaction with a wider stakeholder community, both to manage the consequences of any crisis as well as providing information and facilitating two-way communication with key stakeholders.

Good stakeholder management is a proactive process, focused on facilitating regular communication and anticipating needs, issues and problems that are likely to arise within the stakeholder community. Tools and methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle® are designed to facilitate efficient stakeholder management. Stakeholders are identified, there needs assesses and their relative importance determined. Based on this assessment, communication and other interactions are initiated to gather the support and assistance needed by the organisation and to head off or minimise any threats or problems.

The focus of stakeholder management tends to be ‘defensive’, and is aimed at creating the best possible stakeholder environment to allow the organisation to do its work efficiently   The process is interactive, seeking to engage constructively with the organisations stakeholders and looking for win-win outcomes that benefit the organisation and the stakeholder, but is driven by the organisation, from the perspective of the organisation.

 

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement builds on these three foundations (particularly ‘stakeholder management’) to create a different paradigm.  Stakeholders are encouraged to actively engage with the organisation and contribute to its growth and development whilst at the same time the organisation and its staff engage with their community through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and the like. These engagement processes build a strong, two-way relationship in which the stakeholders and the organisation work together to build a common future that is both mutually desirable and beneficial.  I will be writing about stakeholder engagement in a future post.

 

Conclusion

The three foundations of Stakeholder Engagement: ‘Stakeholder Management’, CRM and PR are quite different processes focused on achieving different outcomes.  In a well managed organisation all three functions work together to crate a supportive stakeholder environment and a successful organisation. However, whilst the systems need to be aligned and compatible they are very different and should not be confused.

In particular CRM and Stakeholder Management systems have very different objectives, focus on quite different stakeholder groupings, need significantly different information sets, and have very different measures of success:

  • CRM focuses on customers (or clients). Whilst customers as a ‘class’ of stakeholder are important, generally an individual customer is not. The focus of a CRM system is managing large amounts of data to provide ‘all customers’ with a generically ‘good’, potentially ‘tailored’ experience.
  • Stakeholder Management focuses on indentifying the key stakeholders ‘at this point in time’ that require specific management focus as well as the wider group of stakeholders that need to be engaged (or at least watched). In most situations very few individual clients or customers would be sufficiently important to feature in this list, but there will be lots of stakeholders who are highly unlikely to ever become ‘customers’, for example suppliers and competitors.

The shift to ‘stakeholder engagement’ does not add new systems but does require a paradigm shift in thinking. The key element of stakeholder engagement is opening up to the ‘right stakeholders’ and either inviting them into the organisation, or reaching out to them, to help create a mutually beneficial future – more on this later.