Effective issues management prevents challenges from becoming major crises.
An approach that involves early detection and action helps companies manage their reputation, become proactive with regulators and stakeholders, and identify business opportunities.
Throughout the stakeholder engagement process, the team involved in communicating with a company’s stakeholders is not only going to hear about topics related to initial consultation parameters, but may also uncover issues and attitudes that were not originally identified or anticipated. It is essential for organizations to be proactive, and have solutions in place for potential issues that may arise.
Because a stakeholder engagement project is fluid and adapts over time, the issues management process needs to be amended over time too. New and important questions and problems are likely to emerge. If they are not managed properly, issues can certainly affect project outcomes.
Four steps to approaching issues management
- Identifying issues: What are stakeholder perceptions and expectations? What issues will the company be held accountable for?
- Prioritizing the response: How does the company focus on the issues that matter the most to the strategic direction? How are they ranked?
- Development of strategic action: What actions are needed to generate a response while there is time to influence the outcome?
- Evaluation: What are the results? Were the problems resolved effectively? What are the teachings from both successes and failures that can help determine future strategies?
At its core, stakeholder engagement is an issues management process, and consultation is at the forefront of identifying these issues.
Stakeholder engagement is also a public relations activity. It is easier to maintain good relationships with stakeholders when people feel they are being heard and their input is valued. The difficulty lies in the assessment of an issue’s intensity and the prioritization of a response.
Types of issues to prioritize
Issues are likely to relate to some or all of the following:
- Financial objectives (revenue and profitability)
- Government regulations (duty to consult, access)
- Legal issues (current or potential future lawsuits)
- Public image (reputation and transparency)
Deciding which categories carry the most weight is a challenge for organizations.
When identifying and prioritizing issues (consultation parameters) it’s important to consider the following:
- What are the company or business unit’s essential goals and strategies?
- Which stakeholders are affected both positively and negatively, and in what way?
- What are the main concerns and objectives of stakeholders individually and as groups?
Effective issues management is a proactive process that equips companies to better meet stakeholder expectations, maintain positive relationships, and achieve business objectives. This results in an enhanced company reputation, and trust generated between groups.
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