Top Tips on Engaging Stakeholders from a Corporate Sustainability Pro

Top Tips on Engaging Stakeholders from a Corporate Sustainability Pro

Jessica McGlyn, Catalynics LLC, June 27, 2018

Dawn Rittenhouse, Director of Sustainability for the DuPont Company, has a wealth of experience working with environmental organizations and other stakeholder groups. She’s been with the company since the 80’s and, in 1997, began helping DuPont businesses to integrate sustainability into their strategies.

Like many corporations, DuPont’s first major foray into formally engaging with NGOs was driven by crisis, one after the another. In the beginning, the company’s aim was to come to terms with the environmental campaigners to resolve the challenge du jour and get out of the headlines. Over time, as they built trusting relationships, DuPont’s leadership came to see these organizations as partners who could help them get ahead of potential issues and even help to grow the business. 

For example, Dupont had this idea to create a salmon aquaculture food based on a GMO process that would reduce pressure on wild fish populations. Before investing in the R&D, they ran the idea by several environmental and conservation organizations and scientists. DuPont wanted to understand what steps it needed to take to make the idea environmentally friendly on all fronts.  The business sought input from these outside experts throughout the product development process. By the time DuPont commercialized the concept, it had very strong NGO support.

I asked Dawn to share her top tips for companies effectively engaging with stakeholders:

1. The goal of your first meeting with an external stakeholder should be to get another meeting. Don’t go into it wanting to convince the other side that you’re right! Aim to listen enough so that they’ll want to talk to you again. 

2. When you’re engaging with a non-profit organization, understand that their time is their money. Before you meet, envision win-win scenarios that help them progress their agenda. Don’t waste their time.

3. Understand the business model of the NGO before you start. Some need to create drama and headlines to raise funding and so may be more adversarial. Others have track records of quietly partnering with corporations to reach common goals.  A leopard doesn’t change its spots, so be prepared.

4. Help your internal stakeholders – your leadership and colleagues in the businesses – understand that you and the NGO may want the same outcomes but have different ideas of how to get there. Help your colleagues look for areas of commonality and early agreement before diving into the more controversial topics.

5. Get your leadership and colleagues in the businesses “into the field” to experience first-hand how the issue being raised by external groups looks and feels like.

6. There are at least two fundamental types of engagements: one to gain perspective and understanding and another to get advice.  Understand which type of engagement you’re after before you start. Advisory panels are very useful, but it can take a long time to get them enough up to speed on your business that they can offer practical advice.

7. When creating an advisory board, choose credible experts that are critical of your approach but are also open-minded enough to co-create solutions

8. Before meeting with an NGO on an issue, know what your company has done! In big global companies with lots of business lines, things may have happened or are happening now on the issue of which you might not be aware. Check in with the businesses and public affairs before talking to the NGO.

If you want to hear more from Dawn on ways to get the most value out of your stakeholder engagement, join us August 7, 12-1 PM for a free webinar.

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