Stakeholder engagement, like many things, is evolving at Dell.

Over the past few years, Dell has progressed on its business strategy, evolved as a services company and acquired many strategic companies.  Through these changes, we began seeing added value in engaging with the broader set of stakeholders, from customers and investors to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments.  We wanted to solicit feedback from subject matter experts on some of our sustainability ideas before launching them publically. This not only gave us the added confidence in our direction, but also gave stakeholders a better understanding of Dell’s decisions making process and improved their confidence that we were effectively progressing on these issues.

In late 2011, we put in place elements of our new stakeholder engagement strategy.  Our Executive Director of Investor Relations and our Executive Director of Sustainability joined me to meet with key socially responsible investors (SRI’s) along the east coast.  In these meetings we discussed measurable sustainability indicators, supply chain transparency and what leading practices in this space are being utilized.  You can read about this engagement at Engaging with the SRI Community.  These meetings were so beneficial that we are planning our second SRI Road show next month and we are investigating an international stakeholder road show later this year.

As we continued down this path of evolving our engagements, the first question was, “Who makes a good stakeholder to Dell?”  Through a rigorous interview process we created a map of Dell stakeholders.  We evaluated relationships on factors such as credibility, influence, willingness to engage and thought leadership.  We investigated which common global topics our stakeholders felt were important to Dell and we found subject matter experts on these topics.  Shareholder engagement needs to occur at the intersection of sustainability trends and where we found open, candid, and credible experts.

Once we identified the right experts, we applied the tool to relevant business issues.  As an example, we are in the process of writing our 2012 Sustainability Report.  We wanted to share the new direction, the dynamic content online, and the updated format with stakeholders to get their view early, while we still had time to edit the final report.  We asked Ceres, a third party, to facilitate the dialog.  Through a candid discussion with socially responsible investors (SRI’s), Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and relevant subject matter experts we walked away with critical information that ultimately changed the content of the report, with one of the key changes being increased supply chain transparency.

As always, we are looking for best practices, success stories and creative ideas for engaging stakeholders.  You can send your suggestions to me at or catch me on Twitter @DebAtDell.