Three Tips on Better Stakeholder Engagement at Nestlé


At Nestlé, when we first had the idea to launch a new, innovative company initiative—the HENRi@Nestlé open innovation platform—our efforts were immediately focused on creating a compelling framework that could accelerate solutions to meaningful social and business challenges. Fast forward to today and we’ve already made strong progress in achieving this goal.

HENRi was first conceived in January 2016 and, in keeping with the fast-moving mentality we were seeking to promote, we created and launched the platform in just 150 days—a tribute to our company’s 150th anniversary. Our open innovation platform now sits alongside our other internal and external innovation practices, all under the umbrella of Nestlé Next: our collective of future-focused activities and initiatives seeking to enhance how we do business in a more innovative and accelerated manner.

To date, the HENRi platform has attracted over 400 applications to our first ten projects, from finding sustainable and recyclable materials, to assessing and diagnosing micronutrient deficiencies. HENRi’s success has allowed us to partner with the very best and brightest start-ups and to make a genuine positive impact on millions of consumers around the world. (Read more InnoLead coverage of the HENRi initiative here.) So far, HENRi has truly surpassed my expectations, but none of this would have been achievable without the support from the right internal stakeholders at Nestlé. However, this was by no means an easy undertaking, especially considering the size, complexity, and decentralized nature of Nestlé.

Ongoing stakeholder support and sponsorship are key to HENRi’s continuous success. From the start, we knew that we needed to crack the code for this by demonstrating the clear value and business impact that we could achieve.

With that in mind, I believe there are three distinct steps that are crucial when engaging with internal stakeholders and, ultimately, making new initiatives a success.

1. Communicate a captivating narrative

Key stakeholders need to be champions and supporters of any new initiative if it’s going to come to fruition and achieve success. By way of example, marketers need to be engaged to help drive the story to external audiences. To get these parties on board, you’ll need to actively engage them throughout the entire process of the new initiative to convince them of the overall benefit and value. This can only be achieved by creating a compelling story that resonates with everyone across the business.

However, when communicating this story to your stakeholders, it’s simply not enough to create a message and just push it out everywhere. You actually have to have an authentic purpose at the center to even get the narrative to stick.

2. Inspire stakeholders and engage through purpose

Few things can be more inspiring than showing a person that what they do has a human impact. So when engaging with your stakeholders, be sure to demonstrate and communicate how powerful and influential they are in making the initiative a success.

In addition to this, it’s fundamental that you engage your stakeholders through the notion of purpose, concentrating on how best you can work together to future-proof your business and create lasting value for the rest of society. In the case of HENRi, our narrative is centered on an ambitious and purpose-driven goal: to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future.

3. Provide actionable next steps

Even with the best story in the world and with the best stakeholders engaged, if there’s not a clear call to action or an easy way for stakeholders to get involved, you won’t be able to generate the outcome you desire. Anticipating challenges early on and understanding demands on other people’s time can help engage stakeholders and bring them on board. In short, the key is taking away the heavy lifting and creating clear, simple, and easy actions that start you on a journey to more innovative practices.

The benefits of internal stakeholder engagement are obvious. Not only does it foster strong relationships across an organization, it also encourages collaborative innovation. Collaborative innovation should never be viewed as just a box-ticking exercise. It actually makes good business sense, and everyone throughout an organization should be able to benefit from it. At Nestlé we live by creating shared value, so for HENRi it’s crucial that we demonstrate innovation to stakeholders as a means to achieve existing goals.

Innovation—especially collaborative innovation—is a tool to help businesses achieve what they’re already trying to, only better, faster, or more cost-effectively.

I’ve spent the last 18 months spreading the word about HENRi internally (and externally), and the enthusiasm has been very positive indeed. Nestlé’s culture of experimentation has continued to flourish and the willingness to collaborate is more apparent than ever. 

Gerardo Mazzeo is formerly the Global Innovation Director at Nestlé. In 2022, he founded and serves as CEO of The Innovation Kitchen.