In the last instalment of our ongoing series, we delved into why your organisation must prioritise impact management.
Embracing the concept that your business should operate for the good of people and the planet is the easier part. However, gaining buy-in from your financial, operational, or governance stakeholders, ‘the decision makers’, is less straightforward.
Integrating impact strategies into business decision-making is a collaborative process. In any decision-making phase, a minimum of around five internal stakeholders hold sway over the outcome. This includes you as the sustainability, social value, or impact lead, along with your CEO, CFO, procurement, and/or marketing. Each seat at the table presents different challenges and motivations that drive their decisions.
Your responsibility is to shape the business impact strategy and translate it into concrete actions to improve the impact your business has on the environment and society. Success in this requires an integrated approach, linking your proposed efforts to the core of the company.
On one hand, it’s the key to unlocking financial support. On the other, cross-collaboration from the team means your strategy is not only acted upon but also enriched with valuable insights and perspectives.
While impact might be your sole focus or a significant part of your role, the same cannot be said for your stakeholders. To gain internal buy-in, especially when there’s no clear mandate or business case, you need to translate complex issues into language understood by each stakeholder, addressing what matters to them.
Let’s explore each stakeholder and how to engage them:
As the head of the helm, whether it’s one person or many, your CEO or board are simultaneously success-driven yet time-poor.
Fiduciary duties and potential risks to the business primarily rest with the CEO. Explaining this in full can feel convoluted and overwhelming. To make your business case heard, weave the company’s impact responsibility into the performance of your business’s long-term success. Position your case as an investment, not a cost.
Evidencing your entire business case upfront can be an ecosystem of information that, bluntly put, your CEO won’t have time to read. Instead of navigating them through various complexities during your limited window of opportunity, summarise:
- What is our company’s responsibility regarding a particular SDG or framework, and why?
- What do we stand to gain as a company?
- How can we align the impact goals with the business goals?
- What time and financial resources do you need?
- How are you going to help them look good to the stakeholders?
- What tools are you going to use to report, measure, and demonstrate your impacts?
- And what is the risk of not doing it?
Paint an overall picture of the future of the business when taking your recommended steps, but communicate this through simple language, aligning your messaging with the business, and, where possible, take charge of what steps in the right direction look like.
The easier it is for your CEO to see the positive big picture at a glance, the more likely you are to get their support.
Similar to the CEO, the CFO has the company’s best interests at heart, but it’s their job to make the numbers make sense and manage the risk to the business. Allocating money across the board, the biggest challenge when seeking financial support around impact is an old belief that initiatives and changes are still “nice to haves.” The main difference is that your CFO will dig down into the numbers and risks in significantly more detail.
Costs can be estimated by performing ballpark calculations on critical social or environmental issues the company is facing. If you’ve already started a project, visible and clear reporting can demonstrate the tangible value of the strategy. Performing a risk assessment and materiality analysis is something they’ll have to do anyway. If you can cut their workload by doing, or at least starting it for them, you strengthen your business case.
Consider hidden costs and shine a light on blind spots that your CFO might not be aware of and how your strategy de-risks these. You can also shine a light on potential positives. Measure and evidence wider value creation to demonstrate opportunities off the back of your business case.
Death by irrelevant PowerPoint is going to make your CFO switch off. Leading with numbers, risk, and opportunities is what’s going to turn their head and create a space to have the conversations you need for financial support.
Where your CEO and CFO play crucial roles in giving your strategy the green light, procurement is one of the linchpins responsible for turning that strategy into reality. You’ve got your buy-in, you’ve got the money, and now it’s time to deliver; this is where procurement takes the stage. Their primary role involves engaging with suppliers and managing contracts, making them your greatest ally in fulfilling your commitments throughout your supply chain.
However, this allyship works both ways. Put yourself in the shoes of procurement. They are continually battling pricing goals and facing increasing cost pressures. Some options are cheaper for a reason. Winning them over requires shouldering the weight of that pressure and illustrating why investing a bit more in a solution aligned with the strategy won’t hinder their responsibilities.
Instead, it will pay off downstream in the supply chain. Simply put, they don’t want to miss their targets to help you hit yours. The benefit needs to be seen both ways. Considering the increasing procurement-focused government requirements for social value and environmental management, your impact strategy could also be the golden ticket for winning and delivering contracts.
To help your procurement team showcase how investing in sustainable solutions not only meets the company’s ethical goals but also aligns with procurement’s efficiency and cost-saving objectives, and their increasing social and environmental requirements. Making it easier for them to champion sustainability without compromising their core responsibilities will foster buy-in and collaboration.
Your operations director is focused on delivering the goods, works, products, services, or contracts that your organisation is built to provide. They may lead large and diverse teams operating under tight delivery timelines, managing operations across multiple sites and geographies. Their teams are on the frontlines of delivery, and they represent a crucial source of impact data, whether environmental or social. Additionally, they may be the recipients of some of your social value efforts, such as workplace wellbeing initiatives, learning and development programs, local employment, or apprenticeships.
Engaging your operations director to champion the importance of your impact strategy throughout your business operations is imperative to embedding your impact practices throughout your organisation.
To communicate effectively with this group, focus on highlighting the short-, medium- and long-term benefits of your impact strategy. Emphasise how impact data can support the work they are already doing, particularly in delivering to customers or the community. If your impact strategy centres on staff wellbeing and development, underscore how the impact work will directly support their teams. If they collaborate with a complex supplier base, explain how the strategy will foster better, more values-aligned supplier relationships.
Your delivery teams are core stakeholders in executing your impact strategy and are also the people most affected by how your organisation runs. Clearly articulating their vested interest in these efforts is sure to support buy-in and engagement.
Last but certainly not least is your marketing stakeholder. Unlike other roles where your input may be perceived as an additional task, your efforts, when channelled effectively, become a valuable asset to the marketing team.
Actions centred around impact can help weave stories that matter, establishing brand value around sustainability efforts. Your primary focus with the marketing stakeholder is accuracy.
Without it, you run the risk of accidental greenwashing, tokenism, or any misrepresentation of the company’s efforts. The repercussions could be damaging, falling squarely on the shoulders of the marketing team. Providing verifiable information and instilling confidence in marketing creates a powerful driving force.
The groundwork put in for the CEO to integrate impact efforts into the broader business can be leveraged by your marketing team to communicate the right story about the company’s sustainability journey to the outside world. A narrative that’s easy to share, backed by tangible insights, empowers them to bring the company’s efforts to life in an engaging manner.
With CMOs increasingly under pressure to deliver ROI, time for creativity is limited—especially if presented with something confusing that they need to figure out themselves.
As with every stakeholder, maintaining clear language and a concise message is crucial. Presenting the base of a straightforward narrative and evidence to your marketing stakeholder makes their job ten times easier. Instead of getting lost in deciding which story to tell, they can focus on the creativity needed to broadcast it to the world.
Achieving stakeholder buy-in
Embracing an integrated approach is crucial to securing stakeholder buy-in. As the champion of people and the planet, your task is to make an impact in meetings. To achieve this, you must strategically leverage the unique needs of each stakeholder and identify the intersection between your goals and theirs. Mastering this skill is the key to unlocking a compelling business case tailored to resonate with each stakeholder.
Your stakeholders aren’t exclusively those holding the pursestrings; there are also those directly impacted by your efforts. It’s crucial to champion their voices, too. In our upcoming article, we’ll further enhance your business case by engaging all your stakeholders. Stay informed with our insights or explore Impact Reporting further by scheduling a demo or contacting our team at 0161 532 4752.