A client recently told me he disliked the word “stakeholder.” Every time it came up, he pictured himself standing beside a barbeque grill, fork in hand, a juicy “steak” dangling from it. The word clearly suffers from ambiguity.
However, at its root, this vision of a stakeholder isn’t far from the truth. Picture instead a land surveyor, decked out in work boots, hard hat, and tromping through the forest with a bag of stakes and a mallet to drive them into the ground. The stakeholder’s role is clearly to put those stakes in the ground, thereby making decisions and identifying the boundaries and ownership of the land.
The reality is stakeholders are powerful. They can have tremendous influence, impact decisions, and affect the future. The same is true in organizations. But, we need more people to view their employees as stakeholders. This simple reframing, this change in language, can make a huge difference.
Consider this: Websters defines an “employee” as “a person hired by another or by a business firm to work for wages or salary.” Employees are defined by the service they provide and to some extent by their dependency to the employer. Viewing employees as internal stakeholders gives them a stake in the company – it opens up the door of engagement on a more authentic and deeper level.
Meaningful employee engagement
One of the paradoxes of employee engagement is that some employers appear to engage, but do it at a very basic, sometimes superficial way. Their motive is primarily to keep employees generally happy and to encourage them to stay with the organization. That’s all fine and good, but activities in this vein miss a fundamental opportunity – for employees to truly have a stake in the company, to participate in decision-making, and to use their influence to help create a more vibrant, sustainable, and resilient organization.
When stakeholders participate in decision-making, when “they” become part of the “we,” both individuals and the organization as a whole benefit. From my experience, here are just a few of the benefits:
- Inventive decision-making
- Team building
- Positive energy
Four ways to meaningfully engage employees
1. Signal a change calling employees “stakeholders.” Or at least make the mental switch from thinking of employees as servants and dependents to thinking of them as active players in your organization’s success.
2. Ask internal stakeholders for help. Yes, this takes courage, but it is a sign of true leadership. Internal stakeholders who feel their perspective is valued will rise to the challenge of helping a company to innovate and thrive.
3. Create a stakeholder engagement framework. Get away from merely communicating one-way messages to employees and instead explore communication that invites broader, more inclusive engagement over time.
4. Realize internal stakeholder engagement, at its core, is about involving people in the decision-making process – and about being clear about how stakeholders can participate at that level. This doesn’t necessary mean people make decisions, but it is always about meaningful involvement in the process.
Shift your mindset today. Begin thinking of and referring to your employees as stakeholders – and treating them as such. Empower them to engage in the decision-making process and reap the collective rewards.