It’s Not About You: Including All Stakeholders in ESG Efforts
If you can take these simple steps in developing your ESG strategy you’re well on your way to solidifying a stakeholder network that is invested in your success.
In 2019, the Business Roundtable, an association of American company CEOs, announced that it was changing the purpose of a corporation away from shareholder primacy to a model that benefits all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, community and shareholders. With the attention that ESG is getting today, there is not a better time to think about stakeholder orientation within your own company and how your ESG strategy aligns.
At its core, ESG is not just about the business value that environmental, social and governance decisions create for the company’s investors – by nature, they are also intended to create value for others. Therefore consideration for all of a company’s stakeholders should be an inherent part of a sound ESG effort and communications. Each stakeholder of your organization, including internal audiences, must benefit from your ESG strategy. And more than that, they must understand the context of your efforts. When the communications they receive and the experiences they have regarding your ESG strategy align, they become advocates and supporters of your organization. And, with a multi-stakeholder lens, you have a deeper and broader impact, making a difference in the lives of all those who know about, interact with or work for your organization.
Rethink your Commitment to Stakeholders
Using a clear organizational purpose and a win-win mindset (meaning that business does not have to be a zero-sum game), you can generate a new way of thinking about your commitment to stakeholders. In the Conscious Capitalism movement, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, argues that any business strategy that requires a win-lose tradeoff between stakeholders is a bad business strategy. This new win-win vision should be the guiding force for developing and acting on your ESG strategy.
To do this, develop a stakeholder map and understand what each group’s primary concerns, needs, and wants are (also known as materiality). Then, go further; step into their shoes and think about what you want for them, not from them. Answer questions such as “What do we make possible in the lives of our stakeholders?” or “What do we want them to feel as a result of interacting with us?” and “What type of experiences do we want to deliver to them?”
With this clarity top of mind, you can develop ESG strategies that benefit all stakeholders and that, simultaneously, help you deliver on your purpose. Plus, with a clear understanding of the outcomes and impacts you intend to achieve with stakeholders, you have a great baseline for measuring the success of your efforts over time with each group.
Communicate with Other Focused, Purpose-based Messaging
When communicating about your ESG efforts, it’s important to create a connected story that each stakeholder can understand and feel inspired by. The human tendency is to talk about self but with a stakeholder lens, you are forced to rethink messaging through others: starting with why and incorporating “we.”
Start every ESG story by sharing your organizational purpose. Linking your ESG efforts to your purpose helps audiences see the bigger picture; to see how every effort you make at your organization is in service of your purpose. This provides one messaging platform that everyone can understand first, and then they can get into the details they seek.
When sharing more detailed information, it’s important to go beyond speaking about the efforts of just your organization. Tell about your efforts through the lens of your stakeholders and what they care about. Tell the stories of stakeholder groups who are contributing to your ESG efforts. Ascribe nobility to everyone’s participation in your program and show every stakeholder how they are connected. Building this community through storytelling is a powerful way to demonstrate and humanize the overall effectiveness of your ESG strategy, showing the network of people who are impacted by, and involved in, your efforts.
Repurpose ESG Content for Stakeholder Consumption
If ESG is core to your organization, and part of how you operate, it should be talked about everywhere. After putting the time and effort into generating stories and gathering data about ESG efforts, it makes sense to use this information to the benefit of your organization. The information should be repurposed and restated consistently.
From sales and marketing, to recruiting, to community relations efforts, there are limitless opportunities to utilize ESG information as part of your narrative. Equip commercial teams with ESG messaging they can use in the bid and proposal process. Use ESG information on your recruiting materials to appeal to new hires. Create relevant, topic-centric tear sheets for use at town halls and community meetings. Include ESG messages across the website, not just in your sustainability section or ESG report.
Today’s landscape has proven that everyone cares about this subject. If you’ve hidden it or aren’t sharing ESG information freely, you’re losing an opportunity to connect with stakeholders or position yourself in the ESG space. The extended use or repurposing of this content will reinforce your message with stakeholders and further showcase ESG as instrumental to who you are and how you operate.
In the cynical world we live in, now more than ever, each stakeholder needs to believe that you are invested in your ESG strategy. You develop these beliefs, trust and credibility by communicating with them in ways they can grasp, and in developing experiences where they can feel your ESG strategy in action. In any ESG effort, each stakeholder must be brought along as a partner in delivering on the strategy, while simultaneously benefiting from the intended actions. This is a big ask of leaders, and requires rethinking your stakeholder approach and communicating in new ways. If you can take these simple steps in developing your ESG strategy and implementing your efforts, you’re well on your way to solidifying a stakeholder network that is supportive of your actions and invested in your success.
With a love for design and a passion for technology this mother of four has never shied away from a day of hard work in either. After working in the IT field as a marketing director, she now works in the marketing field as IT Operations Admin for Savage. Just don't be fooled by her sweet nature, underneath lies the heart of a gamer, and the competition better watch out.