Direct Marketing Article
Redesigning the Corporate Mansion: Why You
MUST Open Your Doors to Stakeholders Who Criticize-Even Demonize-Your
By Dr. Bruce Piasecki and Bill Shireman
"Social responsibility" is more than a buzzword: It's a powerful force that,
combined with social media and the Internet, is forcing global corporations
to change the way they do business. Bill Shireman and Bruce Piasecki explain
how to engage outraged stakeholders in a "dance of dialogue" that creates
trust and fosters positive change and future growth.
It's a new age of stakeholder activism, and corporations are reeling. From
single billionaires seeking to disrupt boards to activist "Davids" in the
field launching stones at the temple of these global Goliaths, more and more
passionate-and very vocal-critics are scrutinizing how corporations handle
issues like energy, water use, conservation, and social justice. In fact,
it's not unusual these days for one firm to hear from 40 or 50 aligned
social responsibility investors coordinated by groups like Ceres, one of the
coalitions of forces that pressure leaders to adopt more sustainable
As we struggle to keep our footing in the midst of this turmoil, it's become
clear that the very identity of the corporation has evolved into something
new. Bill Shireman and Bruce Piasecki call these entities "corporate
"Corporate mansions have taken on the role formerly held by nation states
like France or England," says Piasecki. "In fact, since the turn of this
swift century, they've made up more than half of the world's largest
economies." This new role implies an expanded sense of responsibility that
reaches far beyond the old "making money for shareholders" focus. The
problem is that too many corporate leaders forget that each of these
mansions is set square in a social neighborhood, where lawyers, investors,
regulators, and concerned citizens can see through the windows.
"These stakeholders ask four fundamental questions," says Shireman. "They
are: Is there a human being in there running this place? Why do they not
answer my call? Is this mansion a genuine part of our neighborhood, or can
we convince them to be? and What do the residents of the mansion make or do
that might impact my children's future?
"It's time to redesign the corporate mansion with more and larger windows,
more transparency from the top to the actionable managers, and more ways for
outsiders to sprint up their stairwell to the key executive councils," he
adds. "This can seem like an overwhelming task to leaders who feel-often
rightly so-that they are being demonized. Yet it can and must be done, for
the good of the company and the community."
Humanizing Stops Demonizing
Shireman and Piasecki agree: Stakeholder engagement breaks the hold of
corporate demonization. Your first objective, when dealing with outraged
activists, can be summed up in one word: humanize.
Humanize yourself, Humanize your company, and Humanize even your adversary.
It's only by displaying your place and awareness in the neighborhood of
concerns that you can be trusted again and made part of the debate and
discussions before you. Corporate strategy, once the realm of only the
general council, the business P and L leaders, and the board, is now
something more available for inspection.
"We do not advocate disclosing your corporate strategy, your competitive
advantage," clarifies Piasecki. "Instead, companies like Coca-Cola, Toyota,
and even Warren Buffett firms are beginning to offer stakeholders a chance
to reply to key public choice points about their supply chain, their choices
of energy selection, and, at times, even glimpses into their product
redesign choices. We see this in the energy section, the makers of cars and
trains, and you see GE doing it in their entire Ecomagination program."
Of course, disclosure is only the start. According to Shireman, the essence
of sophisticated and successful stakeholder engagement is dialogue and
sustained structured exchange.
"That is why it is a mistake to begin engaging your stakeholders in a
formal, scripted manner," he notes. "If you want to reinforce your company's
image as a profit-maximizing machine, super-rational and non-emotional, then
invite your stakeholders to a day-long lecture, to educate them about why
their perceptions of you are wrong.
"Doing so is like courting your love interest via charts and graphs in a
PowerPoint presentation," adds Shireman. "What we recommend is more like a
dance of dialogue, what the best trial attorneys call ‘structured discovery'
or mutually derived ways to outsmart an impasse."
The key to a successful "dance of dialogue"? Shireman and Piasecki say it is
understanding the emotional make-up of human beings.
"Some social scientists believe humans are wired to respond to challenges
with six major core emotions," notes Piasecki. "They are anger, fear,
disgust, surprise, sadness, and happiness. As Darwin pointed out, ‘the same
state of mind is expressed throughout the world with remarkable uniformity.'
The fact that we're all hardwired to be emotional in fundamental ways is
applicable in business as it is in the realms of poetry, theatre, and
literature. As you seek to redesign your corporate mansion, it's good to
keep these fundamentals in mind."
Redesigning the Steps from Your Mansion into the Neighborhood
So how do you engage stakeholders? Here are ten steps Future 500 and the AHC
Group often follow when helping companies and stakeholders find common
1. Set your business objectives.
2. Inventory and map your stakeholders-by category, risk, opportunity, and
modes of engagement.
3. Select priority and strategic stakeholders-you cannot work with everyone
in the neighborhood, but you must have balanced representation.
4. Plan your engagement process-so you can seek quick wins, add momentum,
anchor change in the results.
5. Train your team-there is a magic in teams that is inclusive and best run
6. Engage informally.
7. Engage formally only when necessary.
8. Validate leadership opportunities; share ownership.
9. Develop a shared vision-this offers the neighborhood a set of shared
10. Follow through: lead change and share credit.
Humans do not live by bread alone, nor only by profit, habit, sex, or even
the love of our children. We are complex, and that is what makes life worth
"In all cultures, people tell stories about Davids and Goliaths," says
Shireman. "They recite poetry about the quest for social justice. They
perform rituals that display that the powerful can be questioned. They
decorate the surfaces of where they meet. They wonder about the causes of
good and bad fortune. And they concoct theories of the universe and how we
"But in the end, it is only through participation in the actions of the
neighborhood that corporate leaders can regain trust and be given the
license for further growth," adds Piasecki. "It is the job of stakeholders
to remind business owners and managers of their world view and preferences.
The corporations that survive, profit, and grow in the near future will be
more open, transparent, and responsive than ever before."
About the Authors:
Dr. Bruce Piasecki is the author of Doing More with Teams: The New Way to
Winning and president and founder of AHC Group, Inc., a management
consulting firm specializing in energy, materials, and environmental
corporate matters, whose clients range from Suncor Energy, Hess, FMC, the
Warren Buffett firm Shaw Industries, Toyota, and other global companies in
his Corporate Affiliates training workshops. Piasecki is the author of
several seminal books on business strategy, valuation, and corporate change,
including the Nature Society's book of the year In Search of Environmental
Excellence: Moving Beyond the Blame, as well as recent New York Times, USA
Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Doing More with Less. Since 1981,
he has advised companies about the critical areas of corporate governance,
energy, environmental strategy, product innovation, and sustainability
strategy with his teams of senior associates. See www.brucepiasecki.com and
www.ahcgroup.com for more details.
About the Book:
Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning, is available at
bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the
publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more
information, please visit the book's page on
Bill Shireman is the coauthor of Engaging Outraged Stakeholders: How-to
Guide for Uniting the Left, Right, Capitalists, and Activists and president
and CEO of the Future 500. Called a "master of environmental
entrepreneurism," he helps the world's largest companies and most
impassioned activists-from Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nike, Mitsubishi, and
Weyerhaeuser to Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra
Club-work together to improve the profits and performance of business.
Advocating technology as a driver of green growth, Bill has led the
development and deployment of these and other tools at diverse companies in
Asia, Europe, and throughout North America. While CEO of the largest state
recycling lobby in the U.S., he wrote California's bottle bill recycling
law, shown by the EPA and academic studies to be the world's most cost
effective. He advocates market-based environmental policies-contending they
can be more effective than many command and control laws. In 2002, with
former Mitsubishi CEO Tachi Kiuchi, he wrote the popular book What We
Learned in the Rainforest-Business Lessons from Nature, featured in the
Harvard Business Review, which declares the business-as-machine era over,
and shows how companies can become as innovative as the rainforest,
leveraging feedback to grow more profitable and sustainable than ever.
About the Book:
The forthcoming book Engaging Outraged Stakeholders: How-to Guide for
Uniting the Left, Right, Capitalists, and Activists, authored by Bill
Shireman, Erik Wohlgemuth, and Danna Pfahl of Future 500, will be released
in November 2013 and will be available at
Amazon.com and other
online booksellers, in both paperback and ebook formats.