A Guide to Stakeholder Engagement for Healthier Communities

March 30, 2017
  • Martin Lemos

    Former Manager, BSR

Social and economic factors, healthy behaviors, and physical environments account for 80 percent of our health outcomes. The contribution of clinical care to health is the modest remainder. As such, governments, healthcare professionals, and businesses cannot singlehandedly influence U.S. health outcomes without tackling the broad range of factors that determine our health. While the health policy debate in the United States is focused largely on the government’s role, the private sector must embrace its vital role in improving population health. Health is a shared social responsibility—and better health is everyone’s business.

Healthy business management practices recognize the need to improve the health of employees, customers, and communities. To develop strategies, innovate solutions, and provide the resources that will deliver social impact, there is no substitute for the wealth of insights offered by engaging with stakeholders. When it comes to healthy business, the most successful companies are those that connect with the people they seek to benefit.

The Healthy Business Coalition’s new Stakeholder Engagement Guide is designed to help companies engage key stakeholders on their healthy business goals, progress, and obstacles. By developing a robust engagement plan, companies can connect with key stakeholders and receive feedback that is essential to ensuring their healthy business programs are viable, actionable, and impactful.

To some degree, companies already practice stakeholder engagement—they share information with stakeholders by publishing sustainability reports or disclosing safety data. But stakeholder engagement must be a two-way street, and it requires companies to foster the relationships that will provide insights and influence needed to make healthy business programs succeed.

Our new guide is intended to help companies manage the stakeholder engagement process more effectively and outlines three steps for companies to consider.

1. Align on Objectives and Benefits

Knowing how stakeholders can help is an important first step in developing a stakeholder engagement strategy. Does the company need to align healthy business programs with community expectations? Does it need to engage stakeholders to earn the “social license” to deploy programs and validate their approach? Or does the company need guidance on the right metrics to track their programs?

Clarifying “why” to engage is fundamental—and not only to launch the process. To ensure internal alignment, which is required to move the process forward, companies must understand the purpose for engagement. And stakeholders will want to engage only when they know their feedback will be valued and influential. The Stakeholder Engagement Guide provides a framework to organize the benefits to each company and help articulate those benefits internally.

2. Determine Who and How to Engage

A strategic approach to stakeholder engagement requires that a company identify and prioritize its stakeholders. The Stakeholder Engagement Guide helps companies develop an identification tool (a fully developed version of this tool is available to all Healthy Business Coalition members) to prioritize stakeholders based on their ability to engage, degree of influence, and level of expertise. By identifying stakeholders and scoring them against these criteria, a company’s long list of stakeholders can be organized per the appropriate engagement approach.

BSR’s stakeholder engagement continuum informs the entire process. Depending on where a stakeholder lands, a company will approach that stakeholder differently. Stakeholders on the far right of the continuum, in “Collaborate,” are closely aligned with a company’s healthy business efforts and capable of bringing their expertise and influence to improve those programs. Conversely, some stakeholders may not necessarily be appropriate collaboration partners but deserve to be consulted on programming. Connecting with the right stakeholders in the appropriate format is essential to making stakeholder engagement strategic and efficient.  

Effective stakeholder engagement is about the quality of that engagement—and companies should ensure they invest time and resources to further relationships with the specific stakeholders that can improve healthy business programs. The list of tactics helps companies select the engagement formats that are best suited to each stakeholder’s role.

3. Integrate Learnings from Stakeholder Engagement

Successful stakeholder engagement doesn’t finish when the interview or roundtable ends. Companies must distill their stakeholder interactions into insights and actionable next steps. Getting value from engagement and deepening relationships depends on leveraging these insights to help refresh healthy business strategies, innovations, and partnerships. Importantly, this follow-up is not limited to external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders should be engaged to build on the momentum and help incorporate the insights gathered.

The Stakeholder Engagement Guide is the final tool in the Healthy Business toolkit—and rightly so. Stakeholder engagement is the method for refreshing the healthy business communications, strategy, and innovation processes featured in the other three tools. Engaging with communities and partners will fuel the revision and improvement of a company’s healthy business approach. By testing programs and products with the stakeholders who benefit from these solutions, a company can incorporate valuable feedback to make its solutions even better. Interaction creates a feedback loop that informs strategy, tests the efficacy of innovations, and refines how a company considers a topic internally and communicates its progress externally.

BSR invites all companies to apply the Health Business Toolkit, which is now fully available online, and we welcome any feedback on ways to improve these tools. We look forward to hearing about how companies have risen to the occasion to make healthy communities their business.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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