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Circling the wagons…

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By Robert Masters
Director - Robert Masters & Associates*

Circling the wagons is fast becoming the common idiom for governments and corporations today. 

It means that you stop communicating with people who don't think the same way as you. You want to avoid their ideas. 

In business, it is often an indication that you are losing your competitive edge and need to re-think your engagement strategies. This thinking shares the common theme of providing a defense from circumstances that can seem overwhelming when, in reality, it is not the case.

Adopting this head-in-the-sand approach sees governments and companies becoming paralysed in engaging with stakeholders and in taking a leadership role in a debate.

Communities throughout the world are now seeking leadership and forward thinking on issues and want to be engaged in the debate. However, governments, in particular, are steeped in the ‘old thinking’ of ‘testing the water’ with small sections of the community before putting leadership ideas to the broader community.

The Australian newspaper recently highlighted the issue when business, unions and community groups called on the federal government to give the nation ‘real reform’, rather than engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ of not doing anything. Former Treasurer Peter Costello also highlighted the issue in the Herald Sun.

The federal government should have a stakeholder engagement strategy in place to engage and lead the community on the reform agenda and highlight how it will be achieved.

Political strategists will ague that it is not prudent to telegraph desired outcomes too far in advance. This thinking highlights the weakness in the communication strategy and an understanding of the stakeholders.

Strong stakeholder engagement strategies allow you to adopt sound ideas, promote them and use them to strengthen the foundations of your agenda.

The frustrations of the current ‘circling the wagons’ approach defy its origins. In reality, the idiom was not about protection against attacks (by local Native Americans or outlaw gangs), but protection of livestock from wandering off. 

If your stakeholder engagement strategy allows your ideas or agenda to ‘wander off’, those protecting it need to demonstrate there is no substitute for leadership. The adoption of sound stakeholder engagement strategies not only protects proposals (i.e. the livestock), but also adds to their value and appeal.

*Robert Masters & Associates is Wells Haslem's Melbourne affiliate