Effective Stakeholder Engagement is Multifaceted

November 3, 2017

An organisation’s success, reputation and long term sustainability depends on its stakeholders and how they perceive the organisation.  The way the organisation interacts (or is perceived to interact) with its stakeholders builds its reputation and its customer base.  But customers belong to communities and it’s the broader community that grants the ‘social licence’ needed for the organisation to operate long-term. And, because no one and nothing is ever perfect, things will go wrong from time to time requiring action to protect the organisation’s reputation and its social licence.

The objective of this post is to:

  • Put all (or most) of the different mechanisms used by organisations to engage with stakeholders into perspective; and
  • Emphasise the message that authentic and effective stakeholder/community engagement needs an organisation-wide coordinated approach that is governed from the very top levels of management.

The Stakeholder Engagement Spectrum

The Organisational Core

The characteristics of the organisation are always at the centre of every stakeholder relationship[1]. The way your organisation is structured, its ethics, characteristics, systems, and services, underpin how its stakeholder community will ultimately perceive the business. The key to successful stakeholder engagement is in part the way the organisation is structured and operated, and in part being authentic and realistic in the way various aspects of stakeholder communication and engagement are used. If your business is a low-cost, low service, bulk supplier don’t pretend to be an upmarket high service organisation. Many people are more than happy to shop at retail outlets such as Walmart and Aldi, attracted by price and simplicity; others prefer the higher levels of service and higher prices from more upmarket department stores. The art of stakeholder engagement is to maximise the appeal and perceptions of the organisation as it is – not to mask reality with a pretence of being something else.

However, poorly governed unethical organisations will always ultimately fail regardless of their stakeholder engagement effort; you can’t build an effective long-term relationship on unsound foundations.

 

The 8 Aspects of the Stakeholder Engagement Spectrum

The eight aspects of stakeholder engagement highlighted above are all well defined in various publications; the way they are used in this post is briefly set out below:

PR: Public Relations – The actions taken by an organisation to develop and maintain a favourable public image. PR is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between the organisation and its stakeholders. The core element of PR is push communication; it is a proactive process controlled by the organisation, broadcasting information to a wide community to influence attitudes.

Advertising – The activity production and placing of advertisements for products or services. The purpose of each advertisement is to announce or praise a product (goods, service, concept, etc.) in some public medium of communication in order to induce people to buy, use it, or take some other action desired by the advertiser. The difference between PR and Advertising is that PR largely focuses on creating or influencing attitudes and perceptions whereas advertising focuses on some form of ‘call to action’.

CRM: Customer Relationship Management – Refers to the practices, strategies, and technologies that organisations use to manage and analyse customer interactions and customer data throughout the customer lifecycle. The goal of CSR is to improve the organisation’s relationship with each customer, assisting in customer retention, and driving sales growth. Good CRM systems make it easy for people to do business with you.

Issues Management[2] – The process of identifying and resolving issues. Effective issues management needs a pre-planned process for dealing with unexpected occurrences that will negatively impact the organisation if they are not resolved. The scope of this concept ranges from ‘crisis management’ where the magnitude of the issue could destroy the organisation (and the most senior management take an active role) through to empowering staff to deal with relatively minor customer complaints. The key to effective issue management is resolving the issue to the satisfaction of the affected stakeholders. This requires effective systems and preplanning – you don’t know what the next issue will be, but you can be sure there will be one.

Stakeholder Management Initiatives[3] – this is the area where most of my work is focused; managing the expectations of, and relationships with, the stakeholder community surrounding an organisational activity, initiative, or project. Most business initiatives and projects have a high potential to affect a range of stakeholders both positively and negatively (and frequently both at different times). How these relationships are managed affects not only the ability of the organisation to deliver its initiative or project successfully, but also the overall perception of the organisation in the minds of the wider stakeholder community.

Business Intelligence & Environment Scanning – BI and other forms of environmental scanning looking at attitudes, trends, behaviours, and other factors in the wider stakeholder community. They are a key emerging element in the overall approach to stakeholder engagement used by proactive organisations. This is very much the space of ‘big data’ and data mining. Much of the collection of data can be automated and ‘hidden’ from view. The challenge is making sure the information collected is legal (privacy legislation is an important consideration), accurate, relevant, and complete; then asking the ‘right questions’ using various data mining tools. As with any intelligence gathering process, obtaining the data is the easy part of the equation; the real skill lies in developing, validating and interpreting the data to create information that can be used to produce valuable insights.

Social Networks – The ubiquitous, widespread, and diverse nature of social networks ranging from Facebook to personal interaction down the pub can easily outweigh all of the organisation’s efforts to create a positive image using PR, advertising and the other ‘controlled’ functions discussed above.  The organisation’s staff and its immediate stakeholders literally have millions of connections and interconnections to other stakeholders. Most of these connections are unseen, and the environment cannot be controlled. The best any organisation can hope to achieve in this relatively new communication environment is to plant seeds and seek to have some influence. Seeding ideas and concepts into the ‘Twittersphere’ may result in a concept being taken up and ‘going viral’, more commonly the seed simply fails to germinate. Conversely identifying negative trends and issues early, particularly if they are false, is critically important and where possible these negative influences should be countered but given the nature of the environment this is a very difficult feat to achieve.  Smart organisations recognise that their staff, customers, contractors, and suppliers all engage in this space and through other effective communication channels can influence how these people respond to opportunities and issues affecting the organisation.

CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility[4] – CSR completes the circle and brings it back towards the concept of PR.  CSR contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. ISO 26000  Guidance Standard on Social Responsibility, defines social responsibility (ie, CSR) as follows:

Social responsibility is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that:
–  Contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society
–  Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
–  Is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour, and
–  Is integrated throughout the organization and practised in its relationships.

The key difference between CSR and PR is that CSR actually involves doing things both within the organisation and within the wider community, whereas PR focuses on telling people things.

 

Applying the Stakeholder Engagement Spectrum

The various aspects of stakeholder engagement spectrum combined together to create the organisation’s reputation, engage communities, build customers, and when necessary protect the organisation’s reputation. The key combinations are set out below:

Reputation Creation: The key components needed to create and maintain a desirable reputation start with CSR and work clockwise through the spectrum to CRM.

Community Engagement: The key components needed to effectively engage the wider community are focused on CSR but includes the elements moving anti-clockwise from CSR through to Issues Management.

Building Customers: The elements needed to build and retain customers start with PR and work clockwise through the spectrum to Issues Management.

Protecting Your Reputation: Finally protecting the organisation’s reputation is focused around Issues Management, but includes elements of CRM and continues clockwise through to Environment Scanning. In addition, many of the ‘push’ elements in the spectrum may be used as tools to help manage issues and protect the reputation of the organisation including PR and advertising.

 

Conclusion

The ‘stakeholder engagement spectrum’ above is deliberately drawn in a circle surrounding the organisational core, because all of the different aspects interrelate, many overlap, and they all build on each other.  The governance challenge facing many organisations is breaking down the traditional barriers between functional areas such as advertising, PR and CRM/sales, so that the entire organisation’s approach to its stakeholders is coordinated, authentic and effective.

________________

[1] See more on Ed Freeman’ stakeholder theory at: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/understanding-stakeholder-theory/

[2] For more on issues management see: https://mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1089_Issues_Management.pdf

[3] For more on stakeholder management see: https://mosaicprojects.com.au/Stakeholder_Circle.html

[4] For more on CSR see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/tag/corporate-social-responsibility/


Practical Ethics 2

March 10, 2016

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.


Governance and ethics

October 10, 2015

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!


The Elements of Stakeholder Engagement

July 20, 2015

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.

 

 

 


Governance and stakeholders

June 7, 2015

CrisisBoth stakeholder theory and the modern concept of organisational governance place importance on the organisation fulfilling the needs of all of its stakeholders. The older, generally discredited ‘stockholder’ theory suggested the primary purpose of an organisation was to maximise value for its owners – generally interpreted by those in power as looking after the short-term interests of ‘those in power’ or the few with a direct investment in the organisation.

Three on-going sagas demonstrate the fallacy of taking a short term ‘stockholder’ approach to creating value.

1. The FIFA Crisis: Ignoring the alleged criminality of many of the key actors, my view is the biggest ‘governance failure’ in FIFA for the last decade or more has been the perceived method of allocating development funds to national soccer authorities.  The perception is that most of these funds were distributed at the behest of Sepp Blatter, and therefore if the associations wanted to keep on receiving their development funding they needed to vote for Blatter.

There is nothing wrong with funding the development of the game – it is one of FIFA’s primary objectives.  The governance breakdown was in the lack of a robust and transparent process for allocating the money to soccer associations that could make the most beneficial use of the funds and requiring accountability for the expenditure. The $billions in largely unaccounted largess distributed on a less than transparent basis is I suspect the root cause of much of the evil besetting FIFA at the present time.

Its too early to determine the damage to both FIFA and the game of soccer (football) from the breakdown in governance but one thing is already very clear, the big loser over the last decade has been the game, its players and its supporters – ultimately the stakeholders who really matter.

2. The on-going Banking Crisis: The focus of banks on employing and rewarding greedy people focused on maximising their bonuses at the expense of the Banks customers and shareholders lead to the financial crisis and a series of other failures, reviews and prosecutions in the USA, UK and Australia at least.

In Australia, the governance failure was senior managers and the Board’s Directors putting short-term profits ahead of the long term development of the bank. Front line sales people were paid to sell inappropriate products to clients – they do not get bonuses for not selling product even if it is in the best interest of the client.  Middle managers were paid to ignore potential problems – their KPIs and bonuses were driven by the sales volumes of their staff, etc.

The banks and their stockholders did very well for a while, now many of the problems created by this governance and cultural failure are starting to emerge, the short term stock speculators are taking their profits and dumping bank stocks.  Trust in the banking system is at an all time low (financial advisers are deemed less trustworthy then politicians). Very few of the stakeholders in the baking industry, including employees, long term investors,  clients or governments are on the ‘winning side’.  I’m waiting to see what game changing ‘disruptive innovation’ emerges – anyone offering a viable alternative to the banks has a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to start up in a market looking for a viable alternative to ‘big banks’.

3. The on-going Child Abuse Crisis: The Australian Government’s Royal Commission into child abuse continues to uncover major breakdowns in governance in a vast range of organisations. The thing I find most upsetting is the abject failure of the leadership in most of these organisations to uphold the values of the organisation.  Abuse was ignored, covered up, secret payments made to ‘settle complaints’, etc.  The focus of the various churches, school and other institutional leaders was always a short term attempt to protect the institution from ‘bad publicity’. Hide the perpetrators of the evil and diminish the claims of the abused children (causing even more distress and harm).

The long term damage this short-sighted policy of ‘cover-up’ and ‘look-the-other-way’ will cause to the churches in particular has yet to emerge but I suspect there will be massive consequences that damage both the institution and the people the institutions serve, their congregations.

Summary

In each of these cases, the governance failure started at the very top of the organisation, the Executive Committee, Directors, and Bishops failed to develop a culture focused on achieving good outcomes for all of the respective organisation’s stakeholders and allowed corrupt cultures to develop focused on advantaging a very select group of ‘stockholders’.  The resulting crises will be causing damage to the organisations and their stakeholders for decades to come. Unfortunately in the vast majority of cases the people responsible for the breakdown of governance in their organisation are still hanging on to their jobs and pretending the failures are the fault of people lower down the organisational hierarchy.

Avoiding this type of problem is not easy but it starts with the governing bodies recognising that they, and they alone, can set the cultural and ethical tone for an organisation. The functions of governance outlined in our White Paper may seem soft and fuzzy concepts but if they are not implemented effectively and rigorously the next crisis will only be a matter of time. Long term success can only be assured by governing for all stakeholders, which in turn requires an ethical framework and a culture that demands transparency and accountability (as well as technical excellence) from everyone working in the organisations hierarchy.


The Functions of Governance

November 15, 2014

We have published 3 papers recently that clarify and differentiate the functions of management and the functions of governance.

The widely accepted ‘functions of management’ developed by Henri Fayol and published in his 1916 book Administration Industrielle et Generale, are summarised in: WP1094 The Functions of Management. Fayol’s ‘functions of management are:

  • M1 – To forecast and plan,
  • M2 – To organise
  • M3 – To command or direct (lead)
  • M4 – To coordinate
  • M5 – To control (French: contrôller: in the sense that a manager must receive feedback about a process in order to make necessary adjustments and must analyse the deviations.).

These functions are to be contrasted with my Six Functions of Governance:

  • G1 – Determining the objectives of the organisation
  • G2 – Determining the ethics of the organisation
  • G3 – Creating the culture of the organisation
  • G4 – Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organisation
  • G5 – Ensuring accountability by management
  • G6 – Ensuring compliance by the organisation

The mapping of the relationship between the functions of management and the functions of governance are set out below:

Mapping of the functions

Management functions are assumed to be hierarchal with the governance inputs cascading down to lower level functions.

Management functions are assumed to be hierarchal with the governance inputs cascading down to lower level functions.

These functions of governance were initially proposed in my ‘advisory article’: The Six Functions of Governance. Published in PM World Journal Vol. III, Issue XI – November 2014; download from here.

A more focused discussion paper has been published today in WP1096 The Functions of Governance.

Conclusion

Governance is the action of governing an organisation by using and regulating influence to direct and control the actions and affairs of management and others. It is the exclusive responsibility of the ‘governing body’, the person, or group accountable for the performance and conformance of the organisation (in a commercial organisation, the Board of Directors).

But in many situations, particularly associated with the governance of project and programs, the governing of organisations is far from effective. The amount of time and effort devoted by the ‘governing body’ to compliance and accountability, and the amount of resources wasted by ineffective and ‘competing’ management groups, can be significantly reduced if the organisation’s objectives, ethics and culture are sound.

Six core functions of governance are defined to bridge the gap between the ‘objectives of governance’ defined by Cadbury and others and the practices of governance defined by organisations such as the AICD. Hopefully discussion around the core functions of governance sparked by these papers will encourage improved governance performance.


Stakeholders generate profits for shareholders

October 29, 2014

A few months ago I posted on the concept of Understanding stakeholder theory and suggested organisations that focus on providing value to stakeholders do better than those focused on short term rewards for shareholders and the associated benefits flowing to executive bonuses.

A new report: From the stockholder to the stakeholder by Arabseque Asset Management and Oxford University supports this contention.

From the Stockholder to the Stakeholder reviews existing research on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. It is a meta-study of over 190 different sources the authors have demonstrated a strong correlation between organizations that take ESG seriously and economic performance. For example:

  • 90% of relevant studies show that sound sustainability standards lower the cost of capital;
  • 88% of relevant studies show a positive correlation between sustainability and operational performance;
  • 80% of relevant studies show a positive correlation between sustainability and financial market performance.

However, to translate superior ESG quality into competitive advantage, sustainability must be deeply rooted in an organisation’s culture and values. The consequences of failing to take ESG seriously continues to be demonstrated by another of my regular topics, BP. The report contains a plot of oil company share prices from 2009 (pre the Deepwater horizon disaster) through to 2014. BP’s share price continues to suffer the consequences of the short sighted cost cutting that precipitated the Gulf of Mexico disaster:

BP-Price

The report concludes that it is in the best economic interests of corporate managers and investors to incorporate ESG considerations into decision-making processes starting at the governance level right down the organisation hierarchy.

The full report can be downloaded from  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/pdf/Stockholder_to_Stakeholder.pdf.


Stakeholder theory – is there a place for legitimacy?

June 9, 2014

ed freemanEd Freeman, one of the people whose work had a significant influence on the development of the Stakeholder Circle® will be speaking in Melbourne tomorrow at an ACCSR event hosted by Deakin University,  an event I am really looking forward to attending!

R. Edward Freeman is described as the ‘father’ of Stakeholder theory. In his 1994 book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Freeman identifies and models the groups which are the stakeholders of a corporation, and recommends methods by which management can give due regard to the interests of those groups. In short, Stakeholder theory addresses the key question of who really matters and the morals and values associated with managing an organisation.

The traditional view of the firm is the shareholder view.  This theory states that the shareholders are the owners of the company, and the firm has a binding fiduciary duty to put their needs first, to increase value for them. Stakeholder theory argues that there are other parties involved, including employees, customers, suppliers, financiers, communities, governmental bodies, political groups, trade associations, and trade unions. Even competitors are sometimes counted as stakeholders – their status being derived from their capacity to affect the firm and its other stakeholders.

This wider view is central to the definition of ‘stakeholder’ included in the PMBOK® Guide and the Stakeholder Circle® methodology. The PMBOK® Guide’s definition of stakeholders is: ‘Individuals, groups or organisations who may affect, or be affected by a decision, activity or outcome of a project or perceive this to be the case’.

Whilst this definition would seem sensible, the nature of what is a stakeholder is highly contested with hundreds of definitions existing in the academic literature.  Probably the most widely accepted ‘contrary view’ is built on Mitchell’s[1] theory of stakeholder salience.  This theory derives a typology of stakeholders based on the attributes of power (the extent a party has means to impose its will in a relationship), legitimacy (socially accepted and expected structures or behaviours), and urgency (time sensitivity or criticality of the stakeholder’s claims).

Legitimacy and the traditional view that stakeholders are ‘the owners’ of an organisation are closely aligned. The implication is that some stakeholders can be ignored because they do not have a ‘legitimate right’ to be considered.  I disagree with this view and support Freeman’s wider concept.  As he point out in some of his on-line talks:

  • Do you want employees that are not committed to the success of the organisation?
  • Do you want customers who do not value your offerings?
  • Can you afford to alienate the society in which you operate?

Add to Freeman’s questions the fact that ‘non-legitimate’ stakeholders can still create major problems for an organisation through social media and other channels makes taking a wider view of stakeholders seem inevitable. Ultimately the success of an organisation depends on finding ways to align and fulfil the needs of all of its stakeholders – those that do this best are most successful.

The paradox is that investing in successful stakeholder engagement ultimately benefits the organisation’s owners. Numerous surveys have demonstrated that corporations that actively embrace ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) consistently out perform those that focus on profits first. To quote Freeman: “Every business creates, and sometimes destroys, value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities and financiers. The idea that business is about maximizing profits for shareholders is outdated and doesn’t work very well, as the recent global financial crisis has taught us. The 21st Century is one of ‘Managing for Stakeholders’. The task of executives is to create as much value as possible for stakeholders without resorting to tradeoffs. Great companies endure because they manage to get stakeholder interests aligned.”

Stakeholder_Freeman

The problem with adopting the wider definition of stakeholders implicit in stakeholder theory is managing the large number of potential stakeholders it embraces. Some will be supportive, others neutral or antagonistic; some will be more important than others.  Determining who is important at this point in time (and what to do about them) requires a pragmatic methodology focused on:

  • Identifying, understanding and prioritising the current stakeholder community.
  • Determining a communication plan to affect desired changes in the attitude of important stakeholders and to maintain or enhance the attitude of the general stakeholder community (usually segmented).
  • Implementing the communication plan.
  • Regular reviews to assess the effectiveness of the communication process, update the stakeholder community, and refocus your stakeholder engagement efforts.

Dealing with the amount of data needed to implement these processes requires a rigorous methodology supported by robust tools! The Stakeholder Circle® has been designed for this purpose, the methodology is freely available.

 

[1]Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts, 1997 Mitchell, Agle, and Wood.


The social dynamics of governance – Bullying and Pressure Projects

August 16, 2013

A number of current news items have highlighted the complexity and interconnectedness of governance in organisations. The blog post is going to draw together four elements – high pressure projects, bullying, the need for organisations to provide a safe workplace and the need to support people with mental illness; all of which have interconnected governance implications.

To lay the foundation for this post, the interconnected nature of governance has been discussed in our post Governance -v- Management: A Functional Perspective and is best displayed in this ‘petal diagram’

Petal Diagram Governance

The catalyst for this post are some recent changes in Australian workplace legislation that is forcing all types of organisations to consider how they manage the mental health of their paid and volunteer workforce.  In essence these codified requirements are no different to the pre-existing requirements to protect the physical wellbeing of the workforce and others interacting with the organisation, the only difference is mental heath and wellbeing are now overtly covered.

The new uniform national workplace health and safety laws require employers to ensure that workplaces are physically and mentally safe and healthy, and the work environment does not cause mental ill-health or aggravate existing conditions.  Under these harmonised laws ‘reckless conduct’ offences incur penalties of up to $3 million for corporations and $600,000 and/or 5 years jail for individuals.

 

These challenges cannot be avoided; it remains illegal to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of disability, including mental disability, in the same way it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, sex, race, and religious and other beliefs.

These are not trivial issues as the  $230,000 penalty (fines and costs) awarded  by the Victorian Supreme Court against the former operator of a commercial laundry for ‘workplace abuse’ and the  reputations damage suffered by CSIRO (Australia’s premier scientific research organisation), over on-going bullying allegations demonstrate.

There is a growing awareness of psychological hazards in the workplace including bullying, harassment and fatigue; and the consequences of organisational failures in this area can extend well beyond the strict legal liabilities.  To avoid prosecution and reputational damage, organisations are increasingly being required to take proactive, preventative actions and implement a culture, reinforced by effectively implemented policies to manage these aspects of workplace health and safety. Attitudes are slow to change and creating a culture that properly respects and protects mental wellbeing will require a sustained focus at the governance levels of the organisation as well as in the day-to-day management of the work place.

The payback for good governance and effective management in this area is that organisations that promote good mental health in the workplace are seen as great places to work, and have higher levels of productivity, performance, creativity, and staff retention, and tend to financially outperform other less well governed organisations. These are very similar findings to organisations that actively support and embrace ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – apparently the good guys finish first (not last)!!

However, managing this change is not going to be simple!  Organisations are under ever increasing pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and to produce ‘more with less’ to survive. One of the key capabilities enabling quick and effective strategic change is the domain of project and program management. In response to these organisational pressures, project managers are increasingly being placed under stress to be faster, cheaper and better and to deliver the new capability or ‘thing’ in record time.  Couple this to the mistaken belief of some managers that setting ‘stretch targets’ is a way to motivate workers (even though sustained failure is known to be a major cause of stress and demotivation) and you end up with a classic governance dilemma.

Deciding how to best balance these competing demands require an overarching governance policy supported by a sympathetic implementation by management to achieve both a safe work environment and an effective management outcome.  In the absence of effective governance managers are left to sort out their own priorities and frequently are driven by short term KPIs focused on easy to measure cost and time performance criteria. In these circumstances concern for performance frequently outweighs concern for people.

These issues are compounded by the fact that far too many middle and project managers lack effective people skills and can easily drift from pushing for performance to micro management to outright bullying. The mental wellbeing risks include applying undue pressure to perform that induces stress leading to depression; as well as more overt acts of aggression and bullying. The Australian Fair Work Amendment Bill of 2013 defines workplace bullying as ‘repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health or safety’.

Unfortunately, at least in the Australian context, bullying is a major unreported problem. A recent survey by the University of Sydney (see the report summary) has found that workplace bullying tends to be peer-to-peer and occurs at all levels of organisations. Most incidents occur within the presence of one’s peers, including bullying in meetings and other managers are unlikely to intervene. The problem is insidious, nearly 50% of the survey respondents reported bullying in the last year, and only 16% organisation assisted the situation when the problem was reported. But, ignoring the issue is a high risk strategy.

All types of organisation need to develop focused strategies to reduce the opportunities for bullying to occur at every level from the board room table down to the shop floor; and to policies backed by procedures to deal with bullying effectively when it does occur, in ways that support the victims. Bullying is illegal, causing damage to a person’s mental health is illegal (and bullying is only one way this can occur) and failing to effectively manage the consequences of mental illness is illegal.

The ongoing damage being caused to CSIRO’s reputation by the publication of the report into bullying within the organisation demonstrates the way these problems can escalate into a major issue for the Board. The on-going publicity associated with potential litigation and prosecutions has a long way to run before the final wash up allows CSIRO to move forward with a clean slate. And, as the CSIRO report suggests, the consequences of breaking the law are likely to be a small part of the overall damage caused governance failures in this important area.

The reason this is primarily a governance issue is the challenge associated with developing a philosophy and culture that empowers management to resolve the dilemma associated with balancing commercial objectives against personal wellbeing objectives – there is no ‘right answer’.  It is all too easy for executives to decide the organisation needs a new capability, managers being tasked to deliver the required outcome with inadequate resources, and the project manager to be given an unreasonably short timeframe for delivery.  The pressure to ‘perform’ inevitably leading to increases in stress, conflict and potentially bulling. But whilst there are many questions, and decisions, there are few clear answers:

  • When does the need to perform and work extended hours slip into workplace fatigue and an unsafe work environment?
  • When does the project manager’s desire to push team members for maximum performance slip into bullying?
  • Who is responsible for creating the unsafe work environment:
    –  The PM operating at the tactical level?
    –  The managers that set the strategic objectives?
    –  The executives who created the overall environment?
    –  The ‘governors’ who failed to offer appropriate leadership?

Good management can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms, but good governance is needed to eliminate the root cause and promote mental wellbeing in the workplace. At least in Australia there are now effective laws to help and the data shows improving this aspect of an organisation is good for business, and of course excellent stakeholder management.


Defining Governance

April 4, 2013

In a previous post, we defined management; this post seeks to achieve a similar definition of governance.

Governance is the act of governing. It is the way rules are set and implemented, and relates to the way decisions are made that define expectations, grant power, and verify the performance of people within the entity being governed.

To distinguish the term governance from government, governance is what a governing body does. It might be the governing body of a geo-political entity (nation-state – typically referred to as the government), a corporate entity (typically the Board of Directors), or another type of organisation. When looking at organisations and corporations (Corporate Governance), the governing body may be the individual that owns an organisation, but more typically is a small group of people at the apex of the organisation’s hierarchy.

Sir Adrian Cadbury (2002) defined the aim of corporate governance as aligning as nearly as possible the interests of individuals, organisations and society. Corporate governance is concerned with holding the balance between economic and social goals and between individual and communal goals. The governance framework is there to encourage the efficient use of resources and equally to require accountability for the stewardship of those resources. It is the system by which business corporations are directed and controlled.

Stewardship is an important governance concept. It includes:
Fealty: A propensity to view the assets at ones command as trust for future generations rather than available for selfish exploitation.
Charity: A willingness to put the interests of others ahead of ones own.
Prudence: A commitment to safeguard the future even as one takes advantage of the present.

The governance framework, set by the governing body, specifies the distribution of rights and responsibilities among different participants in the corporation, such as the board, managers, shareholders and other stakeholders, and spells out the rules and procedures for making decisions on corporate affairs. By doing this, it also provides the structure through which the company objectives are set, and defines the means of attaining those objectives and of monitoring performance.

The Functions of Governance
The governance function has two key aspects; the first is deciding what the organisation should be and how it should function. These governance decisions are communicated to management for implementation and the primary outputs from this part of the governance system are:

  • The strategic objectives of the organisation framed within its mission, values and ethical framework.
  • The policy framework the organisation is expected to operate within.
  • The appointment of key managers to manage the organisation.

These aspects are best developed using a principle-based approach that recognises and encourages entrepreneurial responses from all levels of management.

The second aspect of the governance system is oversight and assurance. The governing body should pro-actively seek assurance from its management that the strategic objectives and policies are being correctly achieved or implemented. The assurance and oversight functions include:

  • Agreeing the organisations current strategic plan (in conjunction with executive management). The strategic plan describes how the strategic objectives will be achieved.
  • Suggesting or approving changes to the strategic plan to respond to changing circumstances.
  • Requiring effective assurance from management that the organisations policy framework is being adhered to.
  • Requiring effective assurance from management that the organisations resources are being used as efficiently as practical in pursuit of its strategic objectives.
  • Communicating the relevant elements of the assurances received from management to appropriate external stakeholders.
  • Assurance to the organisation’s owners the strategy and policies are being adhered to by management and the organisation as a whole.
  • Assurance to a wider stakeholder community (including regulatory authorities) the organisation is operating properly.

The role of management is the mirror image of governance:

  • Providing input to develop the strategic plan
  • Implementing the approved strategic plan within the policy guidelines set by the governing body.
  • Providing assurance to the governing body that the management structure is:
    • Operating ethically and accountably
    • Providing effective stewardship of the resources available to the organisation
  • Providing timely and accurate information on achievements and issues.

Managing the organisation and making the executive level and operational level decisions needed to implement the agreed strategy and run the organisation within the ethical and policy framework set by the governing body are the core skills and responsibility of management.

Governance and sustainability
The key challenge for the governing body is balancing the competing needs of the organisations stakeholders, including but not limited to its owners, employees, suppliers, customers and society at large, so as to align as nearly as possible the interests of each stakeholder, the organisation and ‘society’ in a sustainable way.

Tripple bottom line

The four elements of sustainability are the three depicted above plus time. The current governors of an organisation need to be cognisant of sustaining the organisation into the future and governing so that the organisation can continue as a valuable contributor to the needs of its stakeholders in the medium and long term, as well as the current short term.

The Governance of PPP
Within this overall framework, the governance of project, program and portfolio management (PPP) is simply an integral part of the overall governance process. Whilst there are specific skills and elements associated with governing PPP these are governance requirements, the responsibility of the governing body.

Similarly the management of the organisation’s portfolios, programs and projects at both the overall enterprise level and the operational level is an integral part of the management process. So whilst there are specific skills and elements associated with the overarching management of the PPP domain at the enterprise level, these are management skills, and are the responsibility of the management team. In short, Governors govern, Managers manage.

To access our other papers looking at different aspects of governance see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html#OrgGov