Martin-Luther-King-JrAs Executive-in-Residence at IMD, I am building on my decades of experience facilitating for clients from all sectors globally my trademark process of stategic relational engagement (SRE™) of stakeholders. I am focusing on the strategic position of value creation and competitiveness through SRE. I am distilling and synthesizing key teachable lessons for leaders who participate in IMD executive education programs . I am developing essential guidelines for practical applications in various contexts. These include internal stakeholder applications for boards and senior management whether horizontal across function or vertically in direct reports; external stakeholders whether customers, suppliers or willing partners; and more complex potentially adversarial external stakeholders (i.e.: activist shareholders, government regulators, NGOs and other civic groups, etc).

Companies know they must engage their internal stakeholders and there is a huge body of data about how engaged employees and engaged customers have a positive effect on bottom-line as well as the converse. We are in an increasingly connected world where traditional boundaries shift by the hour driven by globalization, readily available information – accurate or not – and a 24/7 news cycle. So the impact on business bottom line of not just traditional but also non-traditional, non-market stakeholder – those we have by decision or default – has become more critical: SRE of such stakeholders is no longer an option but an imperative. Companies understand that a broader spectrum of external stakeholders than ever before has a direct impact on their core business whether the company has chosen, cares about, likes them or not.

A complex multi-dimensional matrix of factors is necessary to create and sustain SRE of stakeholders, which I am mapping out. I continue to dive deeper into each component as a teachable lesson, untangling the interconnected elements to uncover what’s key for success. I have divided this complex inter-related matrix into four core topics: (I) How to Create Value through SRE; (II) How to Overcome Obstacles in Creating SRE; (III) How to Make SRE Last once its created; and (IV) Why the Role of Bridging Leaders is vital in SRE. With feedback from my IMD colleagues and the executives we interact with, I am reviewing each core topic and diving deeper into each of its sub-components as teachable lessons. While I rely heavily on the thousands of concrete real-life examples I draw on from almost four decades of experience, I also am utilizing empirical data, case studies and professional papers to bring to life each lesson on how executives from different fields can adapt practical applications for their own success in creating and sustaining SRE with their internal and/or external stakeholders. But, it’s really the stories that bring to life my presentations.

For example, within How To Create Value – including the conditions, qualities and processes required – I am sharing stories about several multi-sector partnerships I helped create, two of which are: (1) Weyerhaeuser, Tree People and CA government on renewable resource as example that worked and sustained; and (2) Unilever, UNICEF, India government on child nutrition as example that started with strong potential but didn’t fulfil its ambition of scale. I also am sharing stories about internal alignment of board management stakeholders around organization mission including those for which SRE worked like an international UK-based NGO and those that didn’t work like a Nigerian-based pharmaceutical company.

To explicate the sub-component elements of my other three core SRE topics: II obstacles, the drivers to overcome them and how to mobilize these drivers; III how to sustain it, how it can break down and how to mend those breaches; IV key role of bridging leaders at each stage and in each situation based on specific work I’ve done in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa I am sharing stories about internal and external SRE. These include work with leaders at Omnicom Group, The Coca Cola Company and other multi-nationals as well as my comparable SRE work with foundations, non-profits and governments throughout the world, sometimes for a single entity and sometimes with two or more entities trying to work together.

My work shows that: (1) high performance bridging leaders – or, über-catalytic drivers –facilitate creating and sustaining SRE; (2) there are teachable frameworks for bridging leaders to create and sustain SRE; and (3) utilizing SRE exponentially improves organizations’ bottom line and achieves great outcomes. We are exploring myriad sub-components that are practical take-away applications that allow executive leaders to know what they can do now to employ SRE best practices to create value and be competitive.

You may wonder about my title for this post so here’s a short personal history to put it in context. From the time I was a very young woman, I was enthralled by Martin Buber’s I and Thou (Ich und Du, 1923), which presents a philosophy about how human existence may be defined by the way in which we engage in dialogue with each other. According to Buber, in the I-Thou relationship, we do not perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, but engage in a dialogue involving each other’s whole being. When I was exposed to the South African concept of Ubuntu, which is that to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them. I firmly believe South Africa emerged from apartheid not only because Nelson Mandela embodied restorative rather than retributive justice but also because Ubuntu was so central to the national psyche that people could accept his call for that. As a student involved in the American civil rights movement, Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC was an especially pivotal moment in my life. I was riveted by his message and particularly moved by his concept of the Beloved Community.

Throughout my personal life and my professional career, I have been a bridge-builder who was guided by these and similar philosophic views that turned on the central importance of relationships. In my family, I have helped disparate members cohere into an extended circle of extended connected relationship that transcended blood ties. In my work, I have helped countless individuals and organizations to work in collaborations where the whole was always greater than the sum of the parts. So, I have experienced how the concepts of I/Thou, Ubuntu and Beloved Community actually do work in business and to great effect!

If you are interested in seeing the outlines of articles I’m working on or power point presentations I’m creating to share these lessons, please let me know through comments on this post. As important, if you have insights about the value, limits, challenges and ultimate benefits of knowing exactly who are your key internal and external stakeholders and how best to engage them, I welcome your input and encourage you to provide hyper-links to your work in your comments.  This article was initially published on ReWiring Business on Jan 27, 2011: you may also post comments on that site.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Marcia Reynolds February 2, 2011, 9:11 am

    Nadine, thank you for leading me to this post. I agree that relationships are critical to business success. And these relationships are up, down and across, meaning that leaders have to build strong communities with their teams, but also with their peers and with those above them.

    When it comes to managing up and creating strategic relationships across and above, women need to be more proactive. Men know how to create these relationships. We keep trying to claw our way up the organizations on our own. As you know, I lay out ways women can do this on for Huffington Post at:

    How wonderful if we could go to work where we feel fully accepted, respected and treated as “Thou.”

  • Deanna Gould February 2, 2011, 5:01 pm

    Dear Nadine!

    I read your post with great interest. My first entree into a ‘leadership’ position was in summer camp when I was named Captain of my ‘Color War’ team, circa 1967. While not politically correct today, or in decades past, it truly meant nothing in it’s day. The colors were red and grey. I learned early on to include everyone, bar none! When I entered the corporate world of magazine publishing, over 25+ years, working for several of the largest, most influential publishing houses in the USA, I never lost sight of, what I called, “Color War Management”. Simply, include everyone. My thinking, “You never know where the big idea will come from’!

    I became known and appreciated for my inclusion. Frankly, no one else wasdoing it. I held ‘state of the union/ourbusiness’ meetings monthly. This was where everyone was invited to hear my state of our union (aka magazine) address, sharing brown bag lunches. I would go through the magazine’s financial data, vis a vis the health of the business, and, ultimately, asking for everyone to participate on how to improve it, if we could. The bottomline: Everyone was invited to participate. No one was excluded. Everyone was not only included but encouraged to participate. All had an equal voice.

    So, Nadine, I am lock-step with your way of thinking. Inclusion is the key. Let everyone know they matter. Let everyone know their POV matters and may very well make ‘the’ difference.

    Bottomline: If you let all those interested in your project, be it a business, whether they are an employee/shareholder, no matter, IT COUNTS!

    Stay well.

  • Jeryl Oristaglio February 2, 2011, 9:05 pm

    How different the world would be if Highly Relational Engagement (HRE) was a natural way of being for everyone– businesses, NGOs, governments, educational institutions–as well as countries, cities, towns, communities, and individuals.

    Your work is important and I look forward to following your progress because when HRE is “teachable” and “doable” on a large scale, it is transformative. Let’s hope that not only will today’s Sr. Executives and leaders but also the world’s future leaders- young people, learn how to inspire and lead with the concepts of I/Thou, Ubuntu and Beloved Community– through HRE.

    To many it may seem impossible to engage all stake holders in a project or issue, especially when asked to embrace our “worst enemy” as we do our “best friends and supporters”. Even so, the world’s most dynamic and successful leaders have generated a power beyond their individual realms of influence when they pursued a path of bridge building and inclusiveness. The success of Gandhi, Mandela, King, are shining examples, and the proof of the value of your HRE work.

    Good luck in your pursuits!

  • Angela Shaw February 4, 2011, 4:00 am

    Dear Nadine, Thanks for making such a cogent and concise rebuttal to the global consumerist mantra of “the self- sustaining profit center” mentality.

  • Arlene Scott February 5, 2011, 10:54 am

    I found a great deal of synergy between your work on HRE and mine on High Impact Relationships (HIR) which focuses on building relationships in real-time and was especially developed for business. This unique, two-day proprietary program enables leaders to rapidly build skills to develop trusting, productive, relationships. The program helps leaders at all levels to increase awareness of the impact they have on others with implications for more effectively building trusted relationships with others.

    HIR is grounded in a cutting-edge, experiential learning approach to building productive relationships adapted from work both at Stanford University Graduate School of Business in its acclaimed Interpersonal Dynamics course and National Training Laboratories (NTL). The program has a strong track record with clients, such as Disney University, PricewaterhouseCoopers (US & UK), Los Alamos National Laboratories, General Electric, Heinz Inc, Towers-Perrin (UK), and JM Family Enterprises, to name a few.

    What sets HIR apart from other communication and emotional intelligence programs is the Skill Group methodology. Specifically, this methodology provides a unique real-time (non role-play) experience where participants learn about themselves through the process of discovery in a positive, supportive environment that prompts curiosity and learning. The Skill Group methodology is a catalyst for individual and group insight by providing live feedback on the impact of specific behaviors. Then, there are opportunities to test and practice new behaviors.

    The focus of HIR is on relationships; however, the context of relationship immediately surfaces a broad range of leadership effectiveness issues: managing conflict, staying cool under pressure, constructively speaking up to others. The delivery strategy includes groups of individuals as well as in-tact teams. To learn more, check out my bio on Linked-In.

  • Ingrid M.A.Gumbs February 23, 2011, 10:58 am

    Nadine article and program looks great to me. Very diverse and it is touching the actuality.

    My strategy for giving back to the “Beloved community” is to teach and empower youngsters in “entrepreneurial skills based on sustainability and compassion” . An old fashion word which in this stage of evolution of the planet and the humanity should be teaches specially to our children to solve the millennium goals which in general are primary needs. Surprisingly in this age of plenty there are still part of the world who are missing this basics needs.
    By working on this skills one develops leaderschip for the 21 century wich is needed now a day.

    The economy of the 20the century will not come back. Making money for money sakes is also over. Making money for a sustainable purpose and compassion for others by giving back to society is in. The new mindset and blueprint that is needed to understand urgency of engaging one self and to take responsibility s showing by the role models like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and a lot of others who are developing the same mindset.
    The are also showing us that it is possible to earn money enjoy live and still are responsible and compassioned and still get blessed with more, like they are giving from a never ending well.
    This are the rich and the famous but slowly people are getting aware that just consuming for consuming, learning for learning sake etc. does not bring the satisfaction one is looking for, it only leads to craving for something that is out of their reach by looking for the right answer in the wrong place.

    Anyway, this is my reaction to your very interesting reflex ions. Angela Shaw Thank you very much for sending me the article of Nadine.

    Meet me on skype: inggumbs, for folo up about this items
    for this matter you are also welcome at the international congres of T.Harve Eker, on the 1,2,3, of april in the AMSTERDAM RIA where he will be the keynote speaker.
    Meet me at the congres in Amsterdam with my group from ROTTERDAM and SIGN -UP

    For more information visit also this website.

    YOU CAN SKYPE: INGGUMBS or call me on my mobile on 0031(0)6-23456451

    Hope to see you all there on the 1,2,3, of april in the AMSTERDAM -RAI.

  • Jarrod May 5, 2016, 7:31 am

    I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to
    be exactly what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to writee content in your case?
    I wouldn’t mind ccomposing a post or elaborating on a
    few of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome website!

    • JC Brown May 5, 2016, 8:25 am

      Jarrod – We do have guest blog posts but I don’t know what you write about. Please send a summary of your work and a link to your sample writings. Someone will get back to you. I am the PA to our CEO Nadine B Hack. – JC


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