We find that breakthroughs often happen over simple connections, particularly in an informal setting – such as a shared love of fly-fishing or passion for a particular alma mater or sports team.
Companies sometimes ask us “what is their end-game?” or “what are they really willing to do/or not do?” Naturally, you won’t want to share this with companies at first, but in negotiations over time, you’ll need these answers.
When thinking about the end-game, it’s important to think about how much power / leverage your organization really has – know the hand you hold. And from a timeline perspective, how long can you really keep up a campaign in reference to media, grassroots and financial resources?
Although we understand that this is an effective tactic to get attention at the C-suite level, it tends to create personal grievances that can stymie the ultimate goals of the campaign. It works best when you are vigilantly tough on the problem to maintain pressure for change, but soft and humane on the people so they have the space needed to work with you.
Activist groups have been extremely effective at executing this strategy recently and we have seen real, systemic gains. Companies are becoming more and more concerned with transparency in their supply chains due to this type of campaign pressure.
This might lead to a one-off agreement but does not necessarily lead to what could have been a more optimal, systemic solution for society.
So, activists putting aside their myriad positions to coordinate targeted, consistent asks can be very impactful, both to provide clarity to a company on an issue as well as empower corporate decision makers to make the business case to their leadership.
But we tell companies that they demand continuous improvement of their employees and suppliers so why should activists not expect the same of them?
This should be expected from companies and communicated transparently over time from NGOs. You are raising the bar and, ultimately, doing your job to protect the environment/society.
We have found them in the most unexpected places in companies, so look beyond the sustainability team.
Once you do find these stakeholders, provide them cover and support whenever possible.
Just as an activist might demand that companies maintain confidence by not leveraging their confidential meeting with you to inform the media or their industry colleagues, you should do the same.
We have seen how one small breakdown of trust can pull the rug out from any support they may have from the top, leading to a breakdown in negotiations and loss of a pivotal internal counterpart.