Stakeholder Engagement: understand external perspectives – strengthen public acceptance

Simply waving things through was yesterday. These days,citizens, employees, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), politicians and officials are increasingly sceptical about corporate decisions and their impact on the workforce and society. Protest is now often seen as a civic duty. Whether change comes in the form of infrastructure developments, new technologies or job relocations, companies face increasing challenges in approving and implementing projects. Merely complying with legal requirements is no longer enough to bring projects to life. In addition to the regulated participation process, it is essential to informally address a wide range of stakeholders, understand their perspective, and respond to their concerns. Early stakeholder engagement is time consuming, but reduces resistance and increases the chances of a successful outcome.


Companies that succeed through early stakeholder engagement must:

  • have a sincere interest in the views of third parties
  • be able to productively handle disagreements
  • avoid promotional statements in favour of genuine information
  • show a willingness to change plans and compromise 


In addition to boosting acceptance and reducing risk, this approach also broadens horizons, allowing for new insights and creating an understanding of change processes.


Even more than the market, it’s the entire social environment that determines a company’s room to manoeuvre. But how well do you know the playing field? Or the players? How well do you know the positions of your stakeholders? And the risks and opportunities that arise from them?


SKM Consultants has developed strategy recommendations and action models for a wide variety of corporate challenges in order to analyse internal and external stakeholders and integrate them into the running of a project. We offer tried and tested analysis tools, dialogue formats and participation models.


Employees, the general public, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), politicians and authorities follow projects from companies with increasing scepticism.


In addition to the (often legally required) information provided to stakeholders, an informal approach is needed to increase acceptance.


Stakeholder Engagement promotes trust between companies and their environment, reduces entrepreneurial risks and improves project planning.

Communicating the introduction of new technologies and products

The term innovation does not have positive connotations. Innovation means change. And change does not just create opportunities. It is also a threat: to status, vested interests and traditions. This ambiguity between opportunity and threat gives rise to the need for companies to take part in Stakeholder Engagement.

This is not just about explaining new technological developments, describing changes to markets and promoting understanding for change. That is why the commonly practiced sender-receiver approach is flawed. Instead of exclusively communicating our own point of view, we must get to know other perspectives. That is especially true when those views are contrary to our own. Seeking an open and honest dispute doesn’t automatically eliminate differences, but it creates the strategic basis to deal with them.

Over the years, SKM Consultants has helped numerous clients in a radically changing market environment engage with a variety of stakeholders – many of whom were previously not part of the traditional business environment. Beyond the direct client relationship, there are many internal and external contacts who are worth engaging with – especially when developing new products.:

  • new technologies
  • new social demands
  • new market conditions

When launching new products, implementing new technologies and addressing new customer groups, companies need the acceptance of their social environment, including:

  • authorities
  • politicians
  • media
  • scientists


The expectations and attitudes of these stakeholders are highly diverse, and the development of a company’s stance is equally complex. We have the strategic and operational experience in addressing the relevant stakeholders in in the market, in politics and society.

  • analysis of the stakeholder environment (stakeholder mapping)
  • conception of an engagement strategy
  • development of a change and engagement narrative
  • channels of communication and event formats
  • platforms for the positioning of and with stakeholders

Early stakeholder involvement in industrial projects

In order to lay a pipeline, implement public infrastructure projects or construct an industrial plant, numerous conditions within the framework of legal approval processes need to be fulfilled. These can often contribute to fuelling disputes between companies and stakeholders. The reason: by the time projects become public knowledge through legally regulated planning and approval procedures (e.g. at a scoping meeting), they have already gone through a long management and development process. This leads to an imbalance of knowledge between companies and the affected stakeholders.

This almost inevitably results in objections from stakeholders and other individuals. At this late stage of the approval process, companies can no longer react appropriately. A change in project planning would not only require considerable additional investment, but would also damage a company’s reputation. In addition, the willingness to engage in dialogue and compromise among the – sometimes very diverse – circle of stakeholders is severely limited at this late stage of the approval phase, as the lack of consultation and participation often solidifies resistance to the project.

As a result of the large number of objections, the regulatory framework relating to approval procedures for infrastructure and industrial projects has also changed in recent times. At the state government level, for example, various administrative regulations and planning guidelines contain a reference to the fact that project developers should involve the public even before the formal start of an approval procedure. In this context, legislators and authorities refer to, among others, the VDI Guideline 7000 titled “Early public participation in industrial and infrastructure projects”. With input from SKM Consultants, the guideline was developed by the Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure, VDI), and is considered a key model for Stakeholder Engagement in industrial projects.

The aim of our stakeholder approach is to:

  • promote trust between the project developer and stakeholders
  • reduce a company’s risks for the implementation of a project
  • improve project planning through new ideas, suggestions and perspectives
  • replace passive regulatory compliance with active management of the planning and approval phase
  • expediate the process.
  • analysis of the project environment
    • stakeholder mapping
    • societal SWOT analysis
    • stakeholder interviews and evaluation
  • engagement strategy and processes
    • exchange with technical, legal, regulatory and project functions
    • development of an engagement timeline
    • alignment of regulatory and other stakeholder contacts
  • operational Stakeholder Engagement
    • development of project websites, text, presentations, videos, podcasts, etc.
    • support with regards to stakeholder contacts
    • media relations and social media communication
    • event planning and support
    • coaching and training of project representatives

Implementing restructuring and operational changes

If the realignment of a company is to pave the way for future success, the corresponding measures must not cause lasting damage to its image among politicians, authorities, social partners and the media. This requires integrated Stakeholder Engagement. In recent years SKM Consultants has taken responsibility for the development and implementation of the communication strategies in a number of complex restructuring projects. We are equipped with the methods and knowledge for solution-oriented communication designed to de-escalate such situations.

Staff layoffs and site closures are subject to considerable legal requirements. If these are operational changes that fall under the German Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz), the internal and external specialist functions involved in restructuring measures usually exhibit very different degrees of expertise for the respective project modules. In this context, the corresponding change management teams are mostly unilaterally oriented towards the needs of the legislator and the market. The risk of lasting damage to a company’s image is often underestimated, while the strategic and economic consequences of reputational damage can be considerable.

Here, holistic Stakeholder Engagement is an essential factor in achieving the strategic objectives of restructuring measures. Our approach serves the objective of not only cutting or relocating a specific number of jobs, closing a site or implementing a new structure. Through early analysis and addressing the relevant stakeholders, it is equally important to learn about possible opposition and to reduce it through appropriate measures. This helps companies accomplish their objectives faster and prevents lasting damage to the corporate brand, not least the employer brand.

Stakeholders to engage:


  • participative management committees
  • employees
  • management
  • other sites
  • other company units (holding company, divisions, etc.)


  • local and regional politics
  • media
  • authorities
  • stakeholder mapping – internally and externally
  • communication strategy review of the business case
  • development of a core narrative
  • communication planning: milestones, measures and timeline
  • development of text, video, podcasts, etc.
  • preparation of internal approach to participative management committees and staff
  • addressing external stakeholders in politics and authorities
  • support at internal and external events (company meetings, addresses to the media, etc.)
  • coaching and training of management