This past Thursday, I was privileged to attend the Investor Summit on Climate Risk and Energy Solutions put on by Ceres at the U.N. It was well worth the trip and even the wind-blown soaking we got waiting to gain entry. (No, my job is not always glamorous. See "From the (cold, cold) ground in Copenhagen").
What made it a unique experience for me was that it was the chance to hear the investment community talking amongst themselves. That has really planted a germ of a thought that I need to noodle on for awhile (if I may mix metaphors).
Years ago at DEC (well, it would have to be), I attended a class on and became a modest practitioner of "Contextual Inquiry". While there are specific techniques involved, the basic premise is that we learn more from observing our customers "in the wild" than from querying them about what they want. Yes, listening to them is important - but the real revelations about how to delight them come from watching them work, noticing what makes them scowl (or worse, swear), seeing when they smile, and listening to how they interact with one another.
In fact, when I led Product Management in EMC's NAS organization, we structured our Birds of a Feather sessions at EMC World to have customers ask one another questions rather than just having a classic Q&A with engineering management. It's oddly difficult for anyone with passion to keep her mouth shut and just listen (and anyone who knows me will attest to my not having mastered this particular skill), but when we did, it was pure gold.
B2B industries do subscribe to similar interactions with business partners. It is not uncommon for representatives to sit on-site with other partners, much as DEC had Windows NT engineers on campus in Redmond. While the risk of those employees exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome is non-trivial, it is manageable. Meanwhile, the partnerships flourish. We do much the same today - with suppliers as well as other partners.
So here's the planted seed… as Stakeholder Engagement has evolved from giving stakeholders a channel to voice opinions, to true dialog, to co-creation, is there a role for actually embedding some stakeholders into a few of our processes? Even more radical, perhaps, can we make a case to embed influential employees with the stakeholders?
Questions I want to think about include:
- Could it really help? For what issues? What would we really get out of it? Would "contextual stakeholder engagement" help us do a better job of seeing the big picture, and navigating the diverse perspectives?
- Is this being done already? Is EDF's Climate Corps a step in that direction? If it is, are we really leveraging it? What about employees that live on-site at suppliers or with customers - are we taking advantage of the insight they could be offering? What about some of the many top-notch people who have moved from the civil society to industry and vice versa - are they already providing this function?
- If you do it, how do you assess whether it made a difference?
- Is it practical, in that we rarely spend extended, concentrated time on any one particular issue?
- What about confidentiality - in both directions, since external stakeholders often hold much information about our peers and competitors?
- Can we sell it?
- What other questions should I be asking myself?
I admit, we still have a distance to go to truly leverage the relationships we have today with many generous stakeholders in the more traditional models of dialog and co-creation. But it's food for thought...