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How to Take Stakeholder Engagement to the Next Level

Image Credit: Nik MacMillan

Companies are investing in corporate responsibility programs with the goal of making a positive contribution to the communities and environments in which they operate. Successful corporate responsibility programs emphasize engagement with various stakeholders, including customers, partners, governments, and employees. In today's changing communications landscape, stakeholders have an important role in shaping these programs.

Stakeholder engagement is critical to the shared success of corporate responsibility programs. It is time that companies take a fresh look at how to engage with these individuals to arrive at common goals and maximize collective resources.

At Celgene, we recently invited approximately 50 participants, representing diverse backgrounds and geographies, to a weeklong event to discuss Celgene's corporate responsibility approach. Their input informed our recently released sixth annual Corporate Responsibility report and helped to determine how we will approach our corporate responsibility goals for 2018 and beyond.

The experience uncovered valuable lessons about effective stakeholder engagement that can help almost every aspect of any organization — from advocacy needs and program development to organizational changes.

Embed Diversity

Incorporating a variety of perspectives from across cultures, experiences, and geographies is essential. These views ensure that we are looking at an issue from multiple angles and arriving at solutions that resonate. We must think about diversity in the context of distinct business and regulatory environments, as systems vary across the globe. By incorporating the perspectives of people who operate in different functions and settings, we can better anticipate challenges and customize solutions. This is particularly important when an organization’s needs change so that we can effectively identify the right path forward. Embedding diversity in the process was an important consideration in selecting stakeholders to participate in Celgene’s recent corporate responsibility planning initiative, and it allowed us to bring a range of voices to an ongoing conversation.

Maximize Connectivity

Advancements in technology and improved communications tools, such as online platforms and video conferencing, are making it easier than ever to connect with a diverse set of global stakeholders. This allows us to involve more people, incorporate a greater range of perspectives, and maximize communications touchpoints more quickly and efficiently.

While technology enhances connectivity and the speed of information sharing, it is important to consider a mix of virtual and more traditional approaches to reach a desired communications goal. In some instances, there may be no reasonable replacement for meeting face-to-face. In others, a combination of methods can enhance collaboration while also reducing costs and travel time. During Celgene’s recent stakeholder exercise, in which we planned our corporate responsibility approach, we used a digital platform that allowed stakeholders to communicate online and in real time. This virtual setting provided us with a structured environment with which we could efficiently engage a wide range of stakeholders. However, for our next touchpoint with these stakeholders, we have considered in-person options to offer valuable face-to-face interactions and to facilitate deeper relationship building and sharing.

Technology has also changed expectations about communications. We are communicating more frequently, openly, and publically. More information is available for those who seek it. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, and social media-driven landscape, organizations and business leaders are expected to engage in real-time dialogue about their products, people and impact. In this environment, it is more important than ever to maintain transparent and open lines of communication with stakeholders. Above all, it is imperative to be nimble and to respond quickly and accurately to stakeholders and audiences so that we can remain effective in communicating our values, vision and purpose.

Focus Engagement

As the number of stakeholders grows, it becomes increasingly vital to stay focused on the end goal. Organizations should have a structured process for soliciting and organizing stakeholder input, to respect the time of those involved and to invite constructive and thoughtful feedback.

At Celgene’s recent stakeholder exercise, we focused our efforts on a specific, but essential, goal — defining our materiality. Materiality refers to the set of issues that matter most to a business and its stakeholders, so it is central to an organization’s entire purpose. This was a critical opportunity to think creatively about how we could leverage the diverse perspectives of our stakeholders for such an important exercise. We focused on the places to which Celgene could add the most value, based on our unique capabilities, which include access to medicine, medical innovation, patient safety, environment, ethics, and integrity.

We also leveraged a materiality matrix to determine stakeholder priorities and goals, as the Global Reporting Initiative recommends. We found the materiality matrix to be a useful tool for defining the content of our sustainability report.

Leverage Momentum

Once you have opened up a dialogue, it is important to sustain it. You already have a group of engaged individuals who are briefed on your priorities and goals and who are invested in the decisions that you will make.

Mapping out regular stakeholder touchpoints to address different topics and needs will help you to get input on a variety of issues. Interactions should be kept focused. Do not overwhelm participants. Creating stakeholder forums provides a mutually beneficial opportunity to achieve shared goals.

At Celgene, our model, which is to consistently engage with stakeholders, includes ongoing dialogue and a biennial formal convening. This approach not only ensures that stakeholders remain involved throughout the year but also provides a designated opportunity to gather feedback, to prioritize, and to work together on plan implementation.

Collaboration is vital to driving real and lasting change. Better results are produced when we leverage the diverse views and experiences of our colleagues and partners and, as a group, take collective action to achieve our goals. There is nobody better to support an organization’s mission than the people who are most invested in it — both from the inside and outside.

Zeba Khan is Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Celgene. She is helping to drive progress toward Celgene's sustainability goals.

[Read more about Zeba Khan]

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