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Seven ways to get colleagues onboard with sustainability and CSR

This was also released a few weeks ago on Slideshare and LinkedIn.  If you have read it there it hasn’t changed.
I do have a new piece that will be released this week.  On CSR communication mistakes to avoid
Seven proven ways to get colleagues on board with sustainability and corporate responsibility
A CSR Thoughtpiece from the CSR Training Institute
       Wayne Dunn

The best investment you make in the sustainability of your stakeholder engagement and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs could be your internal stakeholders.  Seriously!
The people dealing with communities, stakeholders and responsibilities are too often ghettoized in a corner of a project or company and not seen as part of the ‘real business’.  This costs the company money and can be demoralizing.
They are tolerated, sometimes even encouraged, but when budgets get tight they are often squarely in the cutting line. 
It’s not a very sustainable position, for them or the company.  So if that’s where you are, you need to change your positioning and make successfully engaging internal stakeholders a priority.
Do it right and other parts of your organization will recognize the important contribution CSR and stakeholder engagement make to profitability, shareholder value and their specific interests.
Drop the ball on internal stakeholder engagement and you’ll be near the front of the line the next time cuts and downsizing happens and near the back of the line for budget increases.
The good news is that the core principles for successfully engaging internal stakeholders are much the same as for other stakeholder groups. They include, in no particular order:

1.     Ask what’s in it for them?  Think of their interests
Ask what CSR has to offer your company from top to bottom and side to side, through finance, human resources, investor relations, engineering, C-suites, etc. 
Work out how your own success contributes to their success.
And think through how it impacts on them if your work fails, if your project or company loses its social license? 
Then capture these thoughts, make lists and communicate them (see items 3 & 5 below). Use each new specific example as an opportunity to remind them.
2.     Build allies, find champions
Even with your most compelling arguments not everyone will become a raving fan of your work. If you engage appropriately, however, some will, and others will at least be supportive.
Your colleagues are your allies; work with them.   Help them to know more about your work and what it means for their area and interests, for the company and for other key areas. 
With the right information, support and rationale you can then turn one or two into strategic champions for your work and its value to the company.
3.     Share stories from their peers
Stories are great for communicating and engaging, so use some to help you reach internal stakeholders. 
Find short, pointed stories on how CSR/stakeholder engagement and other related areas had big impacts on particular areas and then share them appropriately – and strategically, as this example demonstrates.
I was near the conclusion of the project, an assessment of the company’s social license/CSR work in a particular geographic region it was working in.
The work they were doing was incredible, clearly one of the best examples in the world. This was back in 1999 but is still one of the best – they were way ahead of the game.
However, the local systems and successes I assessed were not consistent across their entire operations.  They had countries and regions where they were doing little or nothing.  Big risks.  And they didn’t see them.
So, I explained the risk to the CFO saying that if they had a problem, if something came up in those other areas, they would have a hard time to respond to an agitated public and confrontational stakeholder groups (think about making friends in the middle of a mob!)
But he didn’t seem interested. I think he was happy to see me leave his office.
About a month later the company had a cyanide spill that, while technically not a major concern, quickly became a major international issue both for them and for the country they were headquartered in.
The spill happened some distance from their mine.  However their vehicles routinely passed through a local community with whom they had not fostered any relationships at all.
You can imagine how the community felt as trucks drove through daily, going to and from the mine, and with nobody from the company ever coming by. They didn’t even have much opportunity for jobs or business at the mine-site.
So, when the spill happened, the community used it to get some major attention. Suddenly there were advocacy and special interest NGOs all over the community and the incident got a lot of global media attention. 
Share price plummeted and the company went into emergency response.  Except, they didn’t really have the relationships with local or international stakeholders to mount a quick and effective response to this situation (think again of building relationships in a mob!).
A couple of months later when I was back at headquarters, the CFO actually asked to see me.  He had been through a pretty rough period.
As the share price tanked the company was suddenly getting all sorts of attention it didn’t like from investors, lenders and other financial stakeholders. 
The company found itself offside of important agreements like debt to market capitalization covenants.
Now a previously skeptical CFO had become a believer.  Now he could see how the success of stakeholder engagement and CSR programs had real meaning and value for his job and the company.
4.     Don’t be a ‘do gooder’.  Keep your organization’s interest paramount
Do good work but don’t be a ‘do gooder’.  Your work and the good you do is important for sure.  But so are the interests of your company.  Keep your work consciously aligned with the broader interests of your company.
Always, always, keep the company’s interests at the forefront.  Link your own job and goals to what is good for the company in other ways, for example mitigating risk for the company. 
Lose that link and you are lost.
Your company wants good work but not a do-gooder, and the same applies to the stakeholders you are working with.
5.     Learn their language
You will be much more effective at communicating with various internal stakeholder groups if you ‘learn their language’.   Hint:  Do-gooderlanguage won’t get you very far in the CFO’s office!
By ‘doing’ stakeholder engagement and CSR you can seem like an alien from another planet! So learn enough about your colleague’s world and priorities to communicate with them in a way that they can hear and understand.
6.     Be passionate, but not fanatical
Most of us working in CSR and stakeholder engagement are passionate about our work.  But so too are many who work in other areas of your organization.
Passion is a gift.  Cherish it.  Fanaticism is a curse.  Avoid it.
It is perfectly fine to be passionate about your work and the impact it is having (both on and for stakeholders AND for shareholders).   But, don’t be fanatical about it.  Passionate is constructive.  Fanatical is destructive.
This is a simple communication skill but often can be challenging to apply, especially when projects and initiatives feel so important.
Always remember that there is a fine line between passionate and fanatical and stay on the constructive side of the line.
7.     Assertive Humility:  Humble AND assertive
Temper all internal stakeholder engagement with assertive humility.  We’ve all seen do-gooders that come across as ‘holier than thou’.  It is a turn-off.

We’ve also seen the meek and mild who struggle to make a point but fail to communicate effectively.
The work you are doing is important.  Very important.  So is the work that others in your company are doing.  Recognize both of these realities.
Remember – internal stakeholders are key to the success of your work.
Do not assume that they are automatically on your side.  Invest time in understanding them and their interests and in explaining how and why your success supports their success.
Learn to engage and communicate with them in effective ways and you, your work, your company and your other stakeholders will all benefit.

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Prof. Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global sustainability expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and advisory service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.