Introducing Nadine B. Hack, CEO of beCause Global Consulting and Executive-in-Residence Emerita at IMD Business School. We’ve been talking online for a few years now and she offered me this guest post recently. Given my recent rants about how the UK plc needs to pull its corporate socks up on issues of client and customer relationships and engagement, Nadine’s post here is rather timely. Here’s a picture of Nadine with a politician:
How deeply engaging stakeholders changes everything
An airline company sues an online ticket provider. Fishermen from the Gulf pay a visit to an oil firm in London. An investment brokerage is accused of misleading government. Today’s headlines could be quite different if more companies embraced efforts to engage stakeholders.
More companies understand that a broader spectrum of internal and external stakeholders has a direct impact on their core business. Those that have engendered deep levels of engagement – what I call strategic relational engagement (SRE) – are far more successful in shaping that impact to their advantage. Studies show how employee and customer engagement are intimately connected and, taken together, have an outsized effect on financial performance. Check this TEDx video out featuring Nadine:
So, for your company to sustain its competitive advantage, SRE – multi-directional, engaged relationships that unleash people’s greatest potential – is no longer an option but an imperative. But many companies don’t know how to effectively create or sustain this. So, let’s look at two examples:
Creating value through engagement
In the mid-1970s the major logging company Weyerhaeuser, environmental activists and the California government were arch enemies. But their eventual collaboration led to the creation of “Investing for Tomorrow’s Prosperity.” As a cross-sector team, they moved from reforestation to fisheries and then to all renewable resources, which ultimately became the blueprint for Global Green Plans. How did they do it?
They found individuals within each stakeholder constituency who had the capability to see beyond their own perspective. They jointly created conditions for safe dialogue by identifying inviolable principals and areas where the stakeholders were willing to compromise. They developed processes for “see-the-light-early” catalysts to lead others from their respective constituencies.
Tactics that distinguish this case’s effective use of SRE included strong bonding experiences like neighborhood tree planting parties with cookouts and dancing that allowed all stakeholders to discover the humanity of “the other”.
Editor’s note, this is classic OD stuff in action and takes time to do well. Here’s one of the most helpful resources I constantly come back to re diagnosis Organisation Development dilemmas:
Companies must find at least one stakeholder who can create a trusting environment where people truly listen, hear and try to put themselves in the others’ shoes. Ultimately, all stakeholders must develop a clear grasp of the shared goals and determine how their respective goals will align. Business leaders who are able to do this will succeed.
Engagement leaders as über-catalysts
In 2000 global activists were protesting at AIDS conferences with signs, “Coke kills workers in Africa.” Though Coca-Cola had the best policies in Africa for AIDS prevention, protection, testing and treatment of its own workers, protesters demanded that the company should provide the same services to its bottling affiliates, which were completely separate entities. Coke, however, felt it could not justify extra expenditure for its affiliates.
How could they overcome this impasse? Über-catalyst engagement leaders from all sides encouraged SRE through dialogue, successfully allowing antagonists to see each other as human beings who actually cared deeply about the same outcomes.
Through SRE Coke realised that serving its bottling affiliates’ employees was in its best interest; if they became infected, it would affect Coke’s entire supply chain. They also saw that the public didn’t distinguish Coke from its affiliates, as activists were negatively impacting Coke’s brand. And AIDS activists acknowledged that while they got media coverage for blasting Coke, their attack strategy was never going to change Coke’s policies. If they really wanted workers in Africa to stop dying Coke would have to agree to transform.
Ultimately, Coca-Cola provided AIDS services for bottling affiliates’ employees throughout Africa with each stakeholder group – including the affiliates and employees – paying some costs.
The über-catalyst engagement leaders saw the value in engagement and came together long before others would.
For me, Nadine’s examples demonstrate the connectivity of the world in which we now operate and how engagement is not simply a fluffy concept but one that can do good both for businesses and the people they employ and serve. The alternatives are now open to rapid feedback via social media as we have seen in previous posts. Nadine’s post reminds me of the interconnectedness of everything and I’m drawn back to the great sounds of Erasure with their song “It doesn’t have to be”, possibly the first time that Vince Clarke has been cited in an article on systemic thinking and cross-organisation development:
Nadine B. Hack is CEO of beCause Global Consulting and Executive-in-Residence Emerita at IMD Business School. She has advised The Coca-Cola Company, Omnicom Group, Unilever and other Fortune 500 companies on rethinking stakeholder engagement.
About the Blogger: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org