Contemporary stakeholder theory holds that organizations should think differently about stakeholder communication programs. But in the lexicon of some organizations, such programs still mean the transmission of information in order to persuade a person or group to accept an organization's preferred outcome.
But if you accept the simplest definition of stakeholder as a person or group with a vested interest in a certain resource or organizational activity, then the fallacy in this approach should be self-evident and, it is fair to say, has become so over the last few years. However, there is a lot of thrashing around about what it means to design and implement these new stakeholder programs.
There are a couple of ideas I think should be explored each time a company or organization chooses -- or is forced -- to engage in a stakeholder communications program:
- Understand that dialogue actually means "the art of thinking together in relationship", according to William Isaacs author of Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together and a senior lecturer at MIT. ("Dialogue is a conversation in which people think together in relationship. Thinking together implies that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others – possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred. " It doesn't mean talking at someone until they are persuaded of your viewpoint. If you want a summary of what Isaacs is talking about see Chris Corrigan's comments, or buy Isaacs' book.
- Consider what Ann Svendsen and Myriam Laberge call the "co-creative approach to stakeholder engagement". Their theory goes something like this: "In contrast to the traditional approach, where an organization is at the centre or hub of a number of bilateral relationships, in a co-creative process, a network or web of organizations and individuals comes together voluntarily to address a shared issue, problem or opportunity." Make your engagement process inclusive, collaborative, and open so you are building social capital rather than drawing it down.
Even if it's too much of a stretch to see organizations surrendering the compulsion to build programs only to persuade, at least they should be thinking about how to integrate a little dialogue or co-creativity into the program framework . . . if only for the practice.