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There are a large number of ways in which the practice of two-way symmetrical communication can be applied to help achieve tangible, money-making business objectives. It may mean that the speed at which money is made is not as quick as initially hoped, it may mean not quite as much money is made and it will definitely involve more ‘process’ being involved to achieve the objective of making money.
But money will be made and objectives will be achieved; it just means a sufficient amount of respect needs to be shown to those who live in the region and who have a stake in it (e.g. people who utilise or who have an attachment with the local environment) and not take them for granted.
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Specific manifestations of two-way symmetrical in this context include, from a process perspective, undertaking the market and industry research noted in the previous stakeholder relations post in this series.
Secondly, the company can employ ways of accessing the resource being mined that obviates, as such as possible, problematic issues manifesting themselves.
Thirdly, the mining can be delayed for a (probably significant) period of time, waiting for the community to become more up to speed on the mining.
Fourthly, not mining in the most visible and/or sensitive and/or problematic areas (inside vineyards etc) that are scenic or tourism-critical. Alternative means of accessing the resource could be utilised or it could mean that some resources are simply not accessed at all.
Fifthly, utilise means of extracting the resource that have, aesthetically speaking, as low an impact as possible (i.e. it’s hard to see them for key vantage points). Mining companies are already employing this approach. It has meant additional costs in designing innovative infrastructure and equipment, but undergoing this process (forced innovation, if you like) is an opportunity for innovations in efficiency and cost-reduction to also occur.
Sixth, put in place a monitoring system for the local environment, supported by the development of an overseeing scientific sub-committee, to detect if there any impacts occurring from the mining. Salient factors in regard to this follow:
- The sub-committee should include independent scientists approved by the organisation and, possibly, the community
- Include local community members in the sub-committee (their close-hand examination of the process will give it not so much added rigour, but a deeper connection to the community. This will help minimise scepticism towards the sub-committee’s credibility)
- Agree on benchmarks for any potential negative environmental impacts (e.g. gas leaks, compromising aquifers, chemical leakage, coal residues on grape vines, wildlife deaths etc) that might occur and, importantly, what levels of impact should halt mining until the issue is resolved to sub-committee’s satisfaction
- The sub-committee is funded by the organisation but it must be independent in the analysis it undertakes and decisions it hands down
- The organisation needs to outline in what way it will incorporate the sub-committee’s decision making into its own decisions. In all likelihood, the organisation should articulate it takes the sub-committee’s decisions and advice very seriously, but it will still make its own final decisions on the matter in partnership with the appropriate government and regulatory authorities
- Once creating the sub-committee, it will be difficult for the organisation not to take its advice. This underlines the importance of, very clearly and very proactively, articulating and communicating the sub-committee’s terms of reference early in the process.
This post and the one preceding it on issues management and best practice PR do not contain an exhaustive list of the issues management and two-way symmetrical communication management approaches that can be applied to a situation such as the one addressed. But it should underline that taking these approaches is not difficult to do and it should also go some way towards making it clear that to achieve sustainable business outcomes, it is common sense to take approaches such as those suggested.
Do you agree or disagree?
What elements of what has been proposed do you support or not support? Why? Are the rationales for two-way symmetrical communication approaches valid, or do you think they are not practical in a business environment? Will these approaches help make companies’ approach to stakeholder management outcomes and/or profit-generating capabilities? Or not? What experiences of your own can you share in stakeholder management in the context of situations such as the one outlined that we could learn from?
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