Great (and Greater) Expectations – balancing competing challenges and opportunities

Stakeholder expectations are increasing and the challenges are more complex – but in an increasingly polarised world, there seems to be less focus on what we all know to be true – that no one can get all their expectations met and trade-offs and compromise are necessary.

To be successful and sustainable in the long run, all organisations be they private sector or government, need to take a balanced perspective and that is what sustainability is all about: taking a balanced and longer-term perspective in order succeed.

Issues and expectations are converging

Take climate change and energy. A few years ago the focus was on reducing emissions and moving from coal to gas as an intermediate solution on the path to a renewable future. Now in 2017, climate change policy and energy policy are twinned and the challenges of energy security coupled with affordability are front and centre. Renewables and new technologies are coming to the forefront and gas is being seen as a way to support energy security and not necessarily an intermediate solution. Organisations are having to re-think and will need to be agile as they transition to a low carbon future with a diversified energy portfolio. The transition needs to be considered from the corporate and asset level with different challenges arising on this journey.

Multi-faceted social dimensions

The affordability challenges highlighted through the energy debate are extremely important but there are also a myriad of other social challenges (and opportunities) that organisations need to manage. These include engaging with local communities impacted through economic or technological changes; ensuring the continued safety and mental health and wellbeing of your workforce as disruption occurs in certain industries and standing up for human rights.

As we have seen through recent high-profile cases, human rights challenges are not someone else’s problem. They can occur here at home in Australia as well as in any organisational supply chain. Increased expectations by consumers, investors and activists of transparency in supply chains means business can take a leading role in responding. Possible legislative responses in the areas of modern slavery mean that these issues need to be integrated into everyone’s procurement processes.

Telling your story, transparently

Organisations need to tell their story – how they create value and what the challenges are in doing so. To do that, organisations need to have robust processes in place to understand their key stakeholder issues and then ensure their actions are aligned. Through transparent and meaningful reporting, organisations can help stakeholders better understand the organisation and its impacts. International reporting frameworks can be used to demonstrate integration of actions and strategy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be leveraged to demonstrate that the actions of organisations support the achievement of global priorities. But for it to be effective, it has to be driven from the top – an organisation has to want to engage with its diverse stakeholders on the issues that really matter to them in a transparent way.

Anticipating the future

Issues are constantly evolving and things don’t stand still and therefore you need to anticipate things in order to plan your next moves. But let’s not forget that all sustainability challenges involve people so the human analysis, nuance and understanding is essential to navigating these challenges now and into the future. Through harnessing technology, advanced analytics and human insight together, opportunities and risks can be identified, analysed and responded to in a more agile manner than ever before.

Things to consider

Organisations need to focus more on managing competing challenges and taking a longer-term view through a multi-stakeholder lens. This can be done through connecting the issues across stakeholder groups and leverage a shared perspective so the benefits can be gained and any costs shared together to move forward.

Specifically organisations should:

  • Identify the most material issues for your stakeholders and integrate them with your business strategy;
  • Start the planning now to navigate the complex challenges in energy and climate change strategy and response while linking in the social dimensions;
  • Better demonstrate and maximise your social impact and return on investment through measurement and monitoring techniques;
  • Communicate better with your stakeholders through better reporting that focuses on what really matters, tells how you create value and how you are really performing and;
  • Anticipate future sustainability challenges through leveraging technology and human analysis to give you the insights you need to respond in this agile world.

We are here to help you manage those great expectations of your stakeholders and succeed into the future. See our page for how we can assist.

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