"Stakeholder engagement tends to be managed in companies in terms of 'how is reputation trending, what is the customer survey saying about delivering a service?' but what we are learning is that companies that invest in building quality relationships produce lasting value for themselves and their stakeholders. With this perspective, we are setting up tools and mechanisms to incentivise and manage the value which is achievable in stakeholder relations.”
Sue Lund, General Manager: Public Policy & Sustainability at Transnet
Transnet SOC Ltd sought a better understanding of the quality of their relationships with stakeholders. Existing approaches, including customer and reputation surveys and interviews with stakeholders, did not provide enough information about this. After conducting a review of possible approaches, they chose to pilot the 'Relational Proximity Model’. In this approach, an independent researcher interviews each party to a relationship, called ‘relationship owners’. The interviews focus not on service or specific issues or aspects of formal agreements, but on the relationship between the two parties, including questions about communication, knowledge, commonality of purpose, power, continuity, trust and reciprocity, and a shared sense of purpose and values.
The company recently completed the pilot project, focusing on the relationships between a number of line managers and representatives of key stakeholders they engage with, including some customers and some regulators. The results showed that in areas where commonly beneficial outcomes are being achieved, this was reflected in a close proximity score for the quality of the relationship between the parties. The results also showed that there can be misalignment between people’s perceptions of their relationships. In some instances, the company’s managers were positive about the relationship and their counterpart was less so, while in other instances, it was the other way around.
Particularly valuable was the feedback that was then provided to each of the relationship owners. While review committees received aggregated information about the relationship indicators, the actual relationship owners received more detailed and nuanced feedback. This provided the platform for fruitful conversations between the managers and their counterparts, to address unfulfilled expectations or communication barriers.
The pilot study was considered a success, and a larger project involving a broader array of company managers and stakeholder groups is planned. A key outcome of the process has been seeing stakeholder relationships as an important site for value creation.
This case study is adapted from NBS-SA's Measuring and Valuing Social Capital executive report. For more information on the Social Capital project or reports, please contact Kristy Faccer, email@example.com.