How to Use Employee Training to Improve Stakeholder Engagement

Companies can improve the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement and protect their freedom to operate by training their employees to address priority topics.

At any point in time, your company’s employees are talking to external stakeholders who may include customers, industry peers, public officials, regulators, NGOs, community members and more. In addition to straightforward conversations about products and services, your employees may need to address contentious questions. Depending on your business, these may include new and/or controversial technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence (AI), fossil fuels, genetically modified foods), a recent incident involving your company or an industry peer, or your sustainability commitments. When it comes to complicated topics, it’s essential to equip employees with the knowledge and tools they need to communicate effectively.

More and more B2B companies we work with offer employee training programs that prepare employees for positive interactions with stakeholders as a way of increasing acceptance of their products or protecting their reputation. Here are three questions to consider as you assess the need for training:

1. How do you know if you need employee training?

  • Your products and technologies are seen as controversial by some stakeholders or by society at large, and your employees, especially those who interact with external audiences on a regular basis, are likely to receive questions they may not know how to answer. Examples include products seen as contributing to climate change (e.g., fracking) or believed to cause health concerns (e.g., chemicals, food additives).
  • Skepticism about your products may lead to regulatory restrictions or other barriers to your freedom to operate.
  • Your company is either involved in or faces the likelihood of tort litigation.
  • Not just your media relations department, but also employees in other roles face questions with reputational implications from external audiences.
  • You have rolled out sustainability commitments, but your employees are not entirely familiar with them, have not bought in and may not be able to articulate them.

2.  Who should receive employee training?

  • Employees who interact with external stakeholders on a regular basis should receive priority. In addition to the sales and marketing teams, consider  your communications, sustainability, regulatory, and public affairs teams as well as  other relevant ones, depending on the structure of your company.
  • Consider rolling out the training in waves to manage resources and make adjustments based on what you learn from the sessions.
  • Post-participation surveys are highly recommended to determine if the program is reaching its intended goals and if the participants are applying what they’ve learned to their stakeholder interactions.

3. What exactly should the employee training consist of?

  • The two key components of every training program are the “what” and the “how.” First, you have to familiarize participants with the subject matter. For example, for a sustainability training, explain your commitments, why they are important, what the company is doing to achieve them and what progress has been registered. For a training about a product or technology, focus on what it is and its value to customers and society. Training materials can be developed and delivered in a variety of formats (e.g., live, through learning management systems, intranet sites).
  • Knowing the content is not enough when topics are associated with controversy. That’s when message training becomes essential in preparing employees to answer difficult questions. Understanding messaging tactics, learning how to find common ground with the interlocutor while being authentic, and having the opportunity to work with a coach to practice answering questions can go a long way in boosting team members’ confidence.
  • To facilitate external interactions, provide communications materials, such as PowerPoint decks and infographics that employees can use. Access to professional and approved materials can go a long way in eliminating barriers to engagement, but remember that employees may not be comfortable using these materials until they have gone through proper employee training.

If you would like to speak to one of our consultants about a training program for your company, contact us today at

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