I have a talentcrush on Dr. Chiara Valentini: “Mapping, prioritizing and engaging stakeholders is essential to leverage effective employer branding”

Dr. Chiara Valentini is Professor of Corporate Communication at JSBE (Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics)and one of my favorite professors during university time. She holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication and Public Relations and has worked and consulted organizations and public institutions of several countries. Chiara has written over 130 publications, won a lot of prizes for top papers and competitive research. Plus, she is a pro when it comes to the management of stakeholder relations — a key skill needed for engaging with employer branding.

What was your dream job as a child — did you ever imagine becoming a professor in one of the best educational systems in the world?

No, at all. When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. Later on, I wanted to work in advertising. Different working experiences during my university years also shaped my view of corporate communication. When I started my Ph.D. I just wanted to know and understand more about the field. I guess the fact that I have been a very curious person has helped me in this regard. Curiosity drives exploration, which can lead to new ways of thinking and innovating. Perhaps this is what fascinates me the most of my job. And of course, professors have an important task too, to train future generations of professionals in the best way.

How come stakeholder management is one of your research fields?

If you work in the field of corporate communication, the management of stakeholder relations is a central activity. Effective communications are those that empower people, enhance their capabilities, increase their resilience in stressful situations and make them valuable actors to the achievement of organizational goals. Hence, effective communications start from an attentive listening of stakeholders’ needs and move on with the planning and managing of different initiatives (communication and non-communication based) that address them.

Why is strategic stakeholder management important?

The management of stakeholders is not and should not be important, but the management of relationships with stakeholders is indeed central. These are not the same things. Organizations that believe they can control and manage what their stakeholders think of them, will be shortly out of business. After all, stakeholders can decide to leave or not support organizations.

“Only if organizations are capable to create opportunities for establishing, nourishing and maintaining positive relationships with stakeholders, they can be successful.”

Let’s not forget that organizations are made of people and these produce economic value for some people by offering and selling something to other people. This is why the quality of relations with stakeholders is key for organizations.

When it comes to employer branding — what are important stakeholders?

In a narrower sense, off-course employees, customers, and suppliers, but today organization-stakeholder relations are more complex, and tend to follow non-linear patterns.

In the old times, prospect employees basically asked information on organizations and brands to their close and not-so-close friends and relatives. We still do that, but we rely more and more on digital information and digital experiences to evaluate the core values of an organization. Just think of the role of influential bloggers or other digital gurus in setting the opinion and moods of diverse publics about products, services, brands, and organizations. Today, AI (artificial intelligence) is also playing an important role, since robot-based interactions are also setting the mood of how customers’ feel about organizations and this obviously has an impact on the overall experience, brand promise and idea of what type of organization customers have just experienced.

Hence, a manager should consider the whole spectrum of stakeholder groups when planning employer branding initiatives.

Often companies just jot important stakeholders down without further investigating them — when it comes to important stakeholders for employer branding, what are the more sophisticated state of the art approaches?

We have many tools and approaches to understand stakeholders’ needs. They all have some strengths and weaknesses. Stakeholder mapping and prioritizing is something that should be tailored to each organization and to each specific goal, so it does not mean that we need automatically to discharge old approaches for new ones. We need, however, to think holistically and try new ways to integrate and adapt them.

“We see great attention to digital influencers and their important role as positive or negative word-of-mouth actors.”

Mapping, prioritizing and engaging this type of influencers is surely essential to leverage effective employer branding activities.

“Employees’ participation in constructing, developing and implementing organizational values is rather important”

Not only because we know employee participation in these initiatives increases their level of commitment to and satisfaction with the organization, but also because employees are the best endorsers for organizations. This is already happening.

What perhaps we really miss, it’s the guts to accept unpredictable, chaotic, but authentic communications sent out by employees, rather than pre-screening what employees communicate externally and/or creating absurd social media policies.

What would be a good start when you need to map & assess business crucial stakeholders.

Once the goals are discussed, definitely listening. Having in mind how to strategically listen to internal and external stakeholders and even publics is a key element.

Listening, and not simply hearing, requires some empathy too. Otherwise, we tend to listen only to those who confirm our beliefs, and this is problematic.

Some use the word ‘stakeholder’, some the word ‘publics’, some talk about ‘arenas’ — it can become confusing — is it, in the end, all the same just with a different label?

As an academic, I like precision and believe that clear terminology leads to a clear understanding. Hence, I would not mix these terms and used them interchangeably, albeit they are related.

An arena is a public space of interaction. Today many arenas are online, but that does not mean that we should not pay attention to offline arenas too. Monitoring an arena means to identify the place where specific discussions about an issue take place. Once an organization has identified specific arenas, it would need to look at the interactions among the actors in that arena — what they talk about, how and with what finalities. These actors may be well-known and crucial stakeholders or some publics. Learning about these talks offer important insights for stakeholder relationship management.

I like to think that organizations have many publics — groups of individuals that recognize they share some common concern about how organizations operate — but they have more defined stakeholders.

A stakeholder is someone who has some form of stake or interest, based on specific resources, capabilities, or intangible assets and that can influence an organization.

Sometimes publics become stakeholders. Particularly when they are capable to mobilize key organizational stakeholders to embrace their cause and can leverage some power. But again, they are not automatically the same groups of individuals.

What are the current trends in stakeholder management from a research perspective?

At Jyväskylä School of Business and Economics, we are currently studying the role of digital influencers as mediating variable impacting attitudes, opinions and behaviors of young people towards organizations, brands, and issues. I am personally interested in studying interactions with robots and artificial intelligence and its impact on stakeholders’ opinion. I think new technologies and the increasing digitalization of a number of labor activities in organizations are asking for answers dealing with their impact on stakeholder engagement and communication.

***

What is are hot questions that need to be answered before starting your employer branding endeavor? In this article you will find the answer.

Connect with me on Linkedin and like TalentCrush on Facebook.