Delivering Sustainability Messages That Resonate With Internal And External Stakeholders
- A one-year coaching engagement, parsed across four distinct phases, to dramatically improve sustainability communications to diverse stakeholder groups.
- A best-practices approach to identifying the motives of different stakeholder groups and coordinating with internal teams to tailor consistent messages for those groups.
- A commonsense approach to enhancing an organization’s social license to operate.
SATISFYING STAKEHOLDERS WITH GOOD-FAITH MESSAGES THAT ADDRESS THEIR CONCERNS
This service is a one-year coaching engagement between a sustainability leader and Coach Jody Bickel, CEO and Founder of Creekbank Associates. This service is designed to optimize sustainability communications outcomes through a four-phased approach. Coach Jody Bickel works closely with the sustainability leader and their internal communication, science and business teams to engage in these four phases of activity:
- Assessment. A comprehensive analysis clearly identifies the current state of sustainability communications in three areas: public commitments, risk and stakeholders. It collects current public commitments into a promise book. It assesses risks, in part based on those promises. It identifies the range of stakeholder groups who require communication. This is paired with a motives mapping exercise to differentiate between stakeholder groups to clearly understand who needs to know what and when. This exercise prepares you to create messages that resonate with stakeholders with different backgrounds and motives.
- Planning. The assessment informs the development of an enterprise-wide sustainability communications plan, identifying audiences, key messages, timing and responsible parties.
- Execution. In this phase, Coach Jody Bickel serves as ongoing advisor to the leader to achieve continuous communications improvement. Leveraging her deep experience, Coach Bickel serves as facilitator and translator to bridge understanding between various internal participants to drive progress.
- Measurement. Coach Bickel helps the sustainability leader deploy best-fit approaches for receiving feedback from internal and external audiences. Coach Bickel monitors the feedback and recommends pivots and strategies, in real time, as stakeholder feedback is received.
In our experience, there are two root causes of most ineffective sustainability communication programs: a lack of internal coordination between those involved in messaging and the absence of messages tailored specifically to stakeholder motives. Our four-phased approach is designed to address both of those common issues.
Effective sustainability communication requires a leader to do three things very well. These are:
- Build bridges with internal teams the leader will rely on to achieve their goals. This often includes finance, operations and science teams. The sustainability leader’s task is to gain alignment with these teams about the sustainability mission and to gain their buy-in and support. This ensures that messages coming from all quarters of the organization are consistent and in line with sustainability goals.
- Identify various internal and external stakeholder groups and what motivates them. No two organizations share the same stakeholder groups, which means off-the-shelf communication playbooks won’t work. A communications plan tailored to the motives of various stakeholders is essential.
- Craft, broadcast and monitor messages for each stakeholder group. Then receive and analyze their responses. This feedback loop empowers sustainability leaders to gauge the risk landscape for their organization and to make pivots where more effective messages could be used.
When this happens, the results for the sustainability leader and their organization typically include:
- An accurate and clear-eyed assessment of sustainability communication risks and stakeholder interests, paired with a strategy to address them.
- Cohesive and consistent messages that make it easy for stakeholders to understand the enterprise’s sustainability stance, direction and progress.
- A proactive and iterative sustainability communications plan that keeps the enterprise in tune with social trends.
- A single, clear and unified voice across the organization regarding sustainability. This is a direct outcome of strengthened coordination within the organization.
- Tailored messages that speak to the motives of different stakeholder groups based on their interests.
- Reduced risks of getting in the crosshairs of activist groups that can do your brand significant damage.
- The sustainability leader gains respect and clout with internal stakeholders and a reputation for being honest and straightforward with external stakeholders.
The net result of this engagement is an enhanced brand where sustainability promises and good-faith progress reports enhance the enterprise’s social license to operate. If you want to be seen as a good corporate citizen, effective communications are essential.
Maybe best of all, this service can be engaged every year by the leader to ensure that their communications approach continues to drive desired outcomes. We also recommend the pairing of this service with our Sustainability Outcomes Visioning and Project & Initiative Coaching services.
Why Is This Service Necessary?
Confusing sustainability communications and messy messaging indicate to stakeholders that an organization’s house is not yet in order. This opens an organization to greater risks, potential attacks and vulnerabilities that could be avoided through a pro-active communications approach.
Reputation is the basis of the modern term – Social License to Operate (SLO). This refers to the level of acceptance or approval by stakeholder interests and society at-large. It reflects how the public perceives an organization, especially as it relates to that organization’s impact on the environment. ESG is probably the most prominent example of this sentiment today.
It is not enough to do great sustainability work. You also have to communicate what you are doing and why to stakeholder groups who can shape public sentiment about your organization. It’s also necessary to coordinate and lead internal groups so they understand sustainability strategy and can make meaningful contributions.
Through our work across numerous private and public sector organizations and consulting with C-suite, Director and program level roles, we have identified these common sustainability communications challenges:
- Most leaders are relatively new to sustainability roles and so communicating about commitments, accurately assessing organizational risks, and presenting a unified voice is new to them as well.
- Risk management is the number one reason that sustainability leaders need communications strategy help early and often. Being able to prove to stakeholders that your organization is making good progress on its goals and that there is a well-crafted plan is what differentiates you from others – this is what you are always striving for!
- Most sustainability leaders are not communications experts. The people they may rely on to create messaging are often not adequately experienced in the science, outcomes and audience types to be able to translate the messaging effectively. There is no substitute for experience and a limited margin of error in delivering the right message for the right audience at the right time.
- Figuring out who and what to communicate to, pro-actively across all diverse interests, is challenging. There are many, nuanced interests represented in modern sustainability stakeholders—more than most leaders are experienced in working and communicating with.
- Internal dynamics are equally as important as what’s happening outside an organization. Sustainability leaders must be apt and agile in navigating the leadership and operations landscape to form and facilitate a unified voice.
- Sustainability leaders are already very busy delivering on commitments and frequently struggle to simultaneously carry-through on communications activities. Having a coaching partner and a well-crafted strategy brings balance to their multi-faceted responsibilities.
WHY YOU NEED THIS SERVICE
YOUR SOCIAL LICENSE TO OPERATE MUST BE ACTIVELY AND INTENTIONALLY CURATED. IT WILL NOT TAKE CARE OF ITSELF.
Who Needs This Service?
Typically, our clients are sustainability leaders who bear the responsibility to deliver on their organization’s environmental commitments. They are the tip of the spear for enhancing social license to operate. That’s a lot of pressure. These leaders often include:
- Presidents and C-Suite leaders
- Partners, Principals and Executive Directors
- Global, National and Regional Chief Officers
- Senior Environment and ESG Leads
ALIGNING SUSTAINABILITY COMMITMENTS AND COMMUNICATIONS IS A MUST-HAVE NOW, NOT A MAYBE LATER
This service begins with an initial consultation between Coach Jody Bickel and the sustainability leader. The purpose of this session is to frame the timing and benchmarks of each of the four phases in the year-long engagement. After the initial consultation, Coach Bickel creates a customized plan for the following phases.
Phase One – Assessment
This phase includes assessments in three areas: the status of current-state public promises, the risk-profile landscape and the motives of differing stakeholders. To achieve these goals, Coach Jody Bickel engages with sustainability leaders in three activities.
First, Coach Bickel and the leader search for and document every public promise made by the organization within the last 5 years or so. These public statements are collected into a “promise book” to establish a benchmark of current commitments.
Second, Coach Bickel and the leader document progress made against public commitments to identify potential shortfalls. This analysis is paired with the leader’s assessment of situations most likely to damage the organization’s social license to operate. These two activities define the threat landscape that must be addressed.
Third, Coach Bickel and the leader create a stakeholder motive map using the mind mapping process. This allows everyone to see differences between stakeholder groups so messages can be crafted that address their goals and concerns. The motive map can be shared internally with other teams to help them understand how to craft messages that resonate.
This activity puts the leader in a great position to know where to spend their time and energy. Phase One usually takes about 90 days to complete.
Phase Two – Planning
Through a series of focused work sessions, Coach Bickel guides the leader in the development of a tactical communications plan. The plan is often in the form of a Gantt chart that documents, over the course of 12 months, who needs to be communicated with and what they need to know. The plan does not tell the leader what to communicate. But it does help the leader prepare to communicate with all stakeholder groups in a way that is meaningful to them. This way, the leader is never unpleasantly surprised or caught off-guard. (Please note that this service does not include the creation of messages. Please see our Messaging Solutions Technical Service for options in this area.)
At this phase, additional internal representatives may be engaged in the planning to facilitate collaboration and set the stage for successful implementation. This may include science, policy, public affairs, legal, compliance, communications and marketing specialists as well as executive and board leadership. The resulting schedule will identify and prioritize the key actions, responsible parties and timing for improved sustainability communications across the organization. This phase of the engagement usually takes 45 days to complete.
Phase Three – Execution
With a clear-eyed understanding of risk, a well-crafted plan and coordinated team, the leader is now positioned to deliver more effective communication about the organization’s sustainability stance and status. The plan serves as the execution platform for consistent, unified communication as opposed to episodic outbursts and annual reports. Throughout this journey, Coach Jody Bickel provides the leader with targeted guidance based on her deep communication and marketing experience across multiple industries and sectors.
This collaboration helps to ensure that sustainability promises, actions and messaging come into and remain in alignment. This engagement is designed to guide the leader to achieve the desired external audience and reputational benefit outcomes, but just as importantly, coaches them in how they communicate with executive leadership. This phase, once enacted, becomes part of a continuous improvement cycle over time.
Phase Four – Measurement
The work of communication is never done as new insights arise, leadership commitments are refined, stakeholder interests shift, and new initiatives are born while others cease. This means that reactions and results of current messaging must be measured and understood to inform future communication. In this phase the leader and Coach Jody Bickel deploy select methods to assess outcomes. These may include focus groups, surveys, public forums and one-on-one listening sessions, among other approaches. Direct feedback sessions dedicated to staying in tune with organizational leadership, including pending direction changes and reactions to current messaging are key in this phase to continue to tighten up enterprise-wide alignment.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
CONDUCTING THE ORCHESTRA OF SUSTAINABILITY COMMUNICATION MOVES THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION FORWARD
As your trusted advisor, Coach Jody Bickel helps you navigate through the difficult and frequently lonely terrain of charting change for your organization as a sustainability leader. This offering usually culminates in the following beneficial outcomes for our clients:
- A clear-eyed understanding and articulation of organizational risk as it relates to public sustainability commitments.
- A strategy for how the organization will address risks and commitment gaps with the different stakeholder groups. This includes having a current understanding of their perspectives and motives so that you can communicate effectively with each of them.
- A communications plan where the leader is in control of knowing when and how to release certain messages, who they are for and who to collaborate with both inside and outside the organization.
- Iterative and dynamic improved messaging so that the messages being delivered are being received as intended. While the voice must be unified, messaging must be framed and customized to each audience type – both the content and the format – in order to be received.
- Significantly enhanced social license to operate with satisfied stakeholder groups who are in the know about where the organization stands on its sustainability initiatives.
- Increased esteem and decreased stress and anxiety for the leader as actions and words come further into alignment. This can result in longer-term role retention, professional advancement and overall job satisfaction.
How To Get Started
Our approach for engaging with each client begins with a no-obligation initial consultation and a needs assessment. Based on each client’s situation and the unique nature of this work, we may progress through several framing sessions before formalizing an engagement. This ensures clarity of scoping and a shared understanding of risks, assumptions, variables and the timing of the work.
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Get Started Now
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