Drucker and stakeholder engagement: Fact and opinion

Drucker, engagement expert

This Harvard blog network article makes important points about stakeholder engagement.

What some might want to call a science, suggests the author, begins (and likely ends) with an art.

Consider these two quotes from Drucker, via the blog post linked above:

“Big decisions may require new criteria. Whenever one analyzes the way a truly great, a truly right, decision has been reached, one finds that a great deal of work and thought went into finding the appropriate measurement. The effective decision-maker assumes that the traditional measurement is not the right measurement…The traditional measurement reflects yesterday’s decision. That there is a need for a new one normally indicates that the measure is no longer relevant.”


“Ironically, opinions break executives free of pre-conceptions and poor imagination. Disagreement is a safeguard against being a prisoner of the organization and seeing an issue just as underlings want. Drucker quotes the famed General Motors boss Alfred P. Sloan, who after hearing executives unanimously support a decision reportedly said, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give us time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

The Harvard blog suggests that, of course, this approach is not ideal every time:

“If a decision is an operational one much like judgments the company has made effectively many times before, and there is little change in the external environment, then there is no reason to tinker with a successful process.”

BUT, when it comes to new territory, Drucker’s paradigm becomes invaluable: 

“However if the company is encountering rapid industry change, poorly understood competitors, or new types of customers, Drucker’s view becomes invaluable. The right questions provide a clear compass heading, even if the right answers seem devilishly complex.”

Does this last part sound familiar with regard to sustainable/ethical/responsible business? I think so.

Applying traditional MBA/public relations/classic management consultant techniques, to corporate responsibility has consistently failed. Our ‘industry’ is partly built on that failure. 

I can give you a thousand examples. Here’s a whole report about that.

Can art become science when it comes to stakeholder engagement? Inevitably a mix of both will be needed. 

But asking those open questions and listening to myriad answers before deciding the framework you are operating within cannot be short circuited. 

We’re dealing with very complex people and environmental systems. Short cuts won’t help. In fact, as we’ve seen, they can hurt, quite badly indeed.

I’d be interested to know, on this topic, what readers think of the new, independent AA1000 SES stakeholder engagement process published a few days ago. Here’s a link

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