We had another great Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting yesterday, focussing on the supply chain (full summary next week). Almost every meeting ends up discussing the supply chain to some degree, and in turn the supply chain meeting was dominated by the need for engagement of procurement staff and suppliers. There's something of a hierarchy of subjects developing of which engagement is always at the base.
One engagement theme that emerged yesterday was how external experts and speakers can influence people in a way an internal change agent can't. This is kind of the opposite of 'not invented here', but it is certainly true that people often give more credence to an outsider with suitable status telling them about change than someone they know. We demonstrated this last Tuesday by getting Colin Thirlaway of Stanley Black & Decker to open proceedings to demonstrate that Sustainability was a real world business issue, not just a theoretical one.
I spend a lot of time facilitating workshop sessions for my clients. In this role my outsider status works really well, and I have one golden rule to maintain that independence:
I will never, ever become a proponent of 'the party line'.
Doing so would not only instantly destroy my position as the honest broker, but on a practical level, I will never understand the context or sensitivities sufficiently well to win an argument. If there's a message to be communicated, then I insist that a staff member take that role.
In fact, I've turned down the chance of a lucrative training contract with one of the world's largest brands because they insisted that a dubious health claim be included in the content. I couldn't defend that to anyone who challenged it, so I said no.
In other words, use an outsider to help with your engagement, but don't expect them to become an insider.