Stakeholder Engagement ~ The Stakeholder We Forgot
Stakeholder Engaement can be a confusing topic on the best of days. It seems as though we've all been put in our categories and been given a mandate of how and who and when we need to consult for specific results. In the end I'm not sure who really made up the rules about how to build a relationship and when we've met our consultation requirements to achieve social licence.
We can go through the list if you like... We've got First Nations, governments, communities, but I can't help but think there is one that most of us has overlooked.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of being a part of a team building session for an up and coming gas project. We were off site in the Rockies and like most other sessions it was a time to get to know one another and our roles within the company. What we were doing, how could we better support each other and what did it look like to drive winning results.
The conversation took a turn when the HR lead decided it was time for a sharing circle... Now I don't know about you but I've never known a group of engineers to be the type to let down their guard and be vulnerable in a group setting. It's usually about statistics, angles, and return on investment. Little time is spent on matters of the heart and so the energy in the room was clearly uncomfortable...
Being the only contractor, and it being my business to engage and facilitate trust I thought I'd go first...
The idea was that we would bring an item of importance and share what it meant to us. Kind of like an adult show and tell if you can imagine...
I had brought a bracelet that was of significant importance to me as it was the last gift my grandmother had bought me. As I sat there with the bracelet in my hand I began to tell the story of how everything she had meant to me was reflected in her gift.
" We always loved shopping on Balboa Island. There was this really beautiful boutique shop I grew up going to with her. Every year for Christmas she would send me a check and this year I had asked her not too. I really wanted something that symbolized what she had meant to me. It hadn't been the easiest year and so when I saw this bracelet I knew it would be perfect. A few weeks after we had picked it out I was back in Canada and got the call that my grandmother had died suddenly... I was devastated. She was truly my icon and I learned from her how to be strong and brave... to know that anything was possible if I just kept showing up. As I arrived in California for her funeral I was on a mission to get this bracelet. I went to the store where we had picked it out and they weren't sure what I was talking about. Disappointed but in a fog I left the store empty handed. As I was walking down the sidewalk a lady came running out the store with the bracelet in her hand... Laura? No that's my grandmother's name... she wanted you to have this. I called her when it came in but it was the day she passed away. It took me a minute to understand it was you... I know she really wanted you to have this and she handed me the bracelet."
As I sat in the sharing circle it was though I had been standing on the sidewalk again telling the story. I could no longer hold back the tears and as I looked up the entire room was crying...
With story after story... people shared of the sacrifices they had to make to feed their family, to seek validation of parents, the frustration of overcoming tremendous obstacles to be enough. I stopped the room and shared that this is what we get paid to do. This is what we are asking of communities... we are asking for trust, we are asking for understanding and vulnerability and connection. We can't possibly earn such respect when we have not only not been able to connect with ourselves but to connect with our team in a way that says I understand what you've been through, why you're here and what's necessary to support one another.
Engaging with First Nations communities is very much about what's at stake. Culture, Family, Traditions it's something we all carry with us. It's the core of who we are, what we've loved and what many of us are afraid to lose... our very identity.
After we had gone around the room and listened to Community Engagement Advisors, Climate Change Scientists and Engineers share about why they showed up, who they loved and what drove them to commit to such meaningful work the room was a little lighter... Recognition of the paths of others was present, trust had been given and respect earned for how we would come together as a team in support of shared outcomes was achieved.
Stakeholer Engagement starts with you... It starts with your team. When you listen and lean in to understand why people showed up today... what's their story, your ability to connect with others will be unprecedented.
We will all be better off for knowing you and having the privilege to work together with you.