8 tips for CSR leaders on how to conduct social dialogue

Stakeholder relationship management is one of the key elements in the implementation of corporate social responsibility activities. This is the theory. And in practice? Do you ask your stakeholders for their opinions on your own activities?

We are protesting because we do not want a waste treatment plant here - says the head of a small village in the Silesian Voivodeship. In turn, residents of villages in the Opole region protested for seven days against the intention to recycle plastic waste close to their homes. Today, public opinion is flooded with information showing the dissatisfaction and anger of local communities in relation to planned or operating landfills or investments that may have a negative impact on the local environment. And all of this in the neighborhood of the newly constructed housing estate of single-family houses. What’s important, many of these situations could be avoided, or at least the negative effects could be minimized. How? By consciously managing relations with stakeholders. Here are 8 tips to help you achieve this goal.

1. Find out who your stakeholders are

It does not matter if you represent a local government, municipal company, RIPOK, waste sorting plant, production or service company, it is important that you have the so-called enterprise environment, i.e. stakeholders. They can be individuals, institutions, formal and informal groups, the media, leaders of local opinion, as well as your employees. You enter direct and indirect relationships with each of these groups on a daily basis. You influence them with your decisions. On the other hand, stakeholders also influence the entity you represent. This is a two-way relationship. If you want to have a social dialogue, start with this step. Find out who these people are. It is extremely important.

2. Determine the impact of the stakeholders

Challenge myths and stereotypes about the power of influence of individual people or social groups. Encourage members of your organization to adopt a stakeholder perspective. Choose the optics that will allow you to determine who is your fan and ally, and who is your hater or just a nameless troll. Take into account the specificity of your environment, possible negative attitudes, and the general attitude towards things within the environment.

3. Consciously manage relationships

Stakeholders' frustration resulting from not being part of dialogue may lead to an escalation of the conflict. Protests, strikes, and even aggression are the results of poor relationship management. The fear of direct confrontation raises anxiety and suspicion. That is why I strongly encourage you to anticipate possible social effects at the stage of investment planning, modernization, or change of the activity profile. In such cases, a dialogue with stakeholders comes in handy, a tool very useful in the work of every manager (in dialogue with stakeholders, you can use the international series of AA1000 standards, which were partly an inspiration for this text).

4. Choose the best form of dialogue

Consider an idea that has the biggest chance of success. The form of dialogue should result from knowledge, preparation, potential opportunities, and risk analysis. What's more, the right choice may determine whether the goal set by you can be achieved in the first place. The level of involvement of your stakeholders directly determines the form of dialogue and the language of communication. From simple information to sustainable partnerships. And there are countless forms of dialogue, ranging from online or real-world surveys, through the creation of a dedicated website (landing page) with the possibility of commenting and entering into various types of interactions, online chat, direct meetings with stakeholders in the round table formula, small focus groups (face-to-face in-depth interviews), 1: 1 session (face-to-face, individual conversations), invitation to submit written opinions and applications, implementation of the so-called boxes of ideas, satisfaction, commitment or customer satisfaction surveys.

5. Define the purpose of the dialogue

When inviting stakeholders to talk, let them know what you will be talking about. Give a clear message of what you expect. It is about a piece of short information like we invite you to talk about your expectations, suggestions, and needs related to the investment planned by us in the vicinity of the estate. A precise message gives the recipient a sense of knowledge and confidence. During the meeting, he will not be surprised. The icing on the cake can be a previously prepared printed invitation with a package of information materials (printed or online). These small gestures will surely not go unnoticed.

6. Be open to any opinion

The conduct of the meeting itself determines the success of a dialogue session. Keep the discussion balanced. Every vote is important and no one is above the others. Instead, there are opinions, suggestions, complaints, and complaints. That’s fine. Don't be afraid of any of them. After all, you met to talk about an important matter. Nothing builds a relationship like an honest conversation. Moreover, your role should be rather passive. Don't dominate the conversation, be responsible for whatever you are asked. Remember that a good solution is to invite an external person, a mediator who will lead the meeting and objectively reflect the nature of the discussion.

7. Keep your word

In fact, it is only after this meeting or series of meetings that the most important part of the plan begins. Why? Ideas, suggestions, and expectations gathered during the dialogue session should be transformed into real actions. This means that each of them should be discussed in your organization and then passed on to stakeholders as feedback. You cannot forget this point! Actually, you can, but the future of the next projects will not look particularly good. Feedback is a signal that you are taking the stakeholder seriously. Like an adult. Not a baby. It is also a signal that proves your responsibility and truthfulness. That is the power of values and the role of which in this type of relationship cannot be overestimated.

8. See the benefits of dialogue

A manager who can see the advantages of dialogue with stakeholders will soon find out how much he actually has gained. Most of the advantages obtained now will bring some positive solutions in the future. Here I present you a few selected benefits: eliminating or reducing risks, preventing or reducing possible crises, rebuilding or building trust in the eyes of stakeholders, increasing employee loyalty, commitment and motivation, improving the effectiveness of projects or programs, greater knowledge about the company, enterprise, organization or institution and improvement of the recognition and image of the company.

And finally…

Companies that consciously manage their relationships with stakeholders build their value. Examples of companies such as ERGO Hestia, Raben Group, Aquanet SA, Allegro.pl, OTOMOTO, Orange Polska, Provident Polska, Tesco Polska, BMW Bońkowscy, and many others show that by taking long-term actions based on a partnership approach to stakeholders, it is possible to create a bridge between the company and its surroundings. The dialogue is about the synergy of expectations. And the goal should be in the center. Why are we meeting? Why are we in this lineup? What is it supposed to give us? And how can we deal with it together? The answers are simple. Aren’t they?

I wrote this article for the national monthly newspaper RECYKLING

Łukasz Smolarek


Łukasz Smolarek

I help my clients to face the challenges of the changing world and also discover the potential of holistic view on human needs as well as our planet’s possibilities.

Łukasz Smolarek
Responsible business strategist and values ​​leadership mentor
Together we can more
Łukasz Smolarek

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