Monday, September 14, 2009

Stakeholder Engagement

THEME: Transformation in the Midst of 2009

FOCUS: Stakeholder Engagement

Monday morning: September 14, 2009

Dear friends,

For years, I have sat in meetings, listening to executives talk about the importance of connecting with external stakeholders. I have also listened to them discuss how to connect better with employees. In each meeting, the desire to have a deeper relationship is genuine, and the recognition that making a connection of this nature is important. But, often the end result is bogus events or very lame initiatives.

Henry Mintzberg, the John Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, writes a wonderful article in the July-August 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review called “Rebuilding Companies as Communities.” As he explains, “Beneath the current economic crisis lies another crisis of far greater proportions: the depreciation in companies of community - people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. Decades of short-term management, in the United States especially, have inflated the importance of CEOs and reduced others in the corporation to fungible commodities - human resources to be ‘downsized’ at the drop of a share price. The result: mindless reckless behavior that has brought the global economy to its knees.”

Mintzberg notes that the critical element to building or rebuilding community is with middle managers. He believes they are the ones “who see the connections between operations and strategy” and “can be instrumental in rebuilding a sense of community in businesses.” He also is a strong proponent of building trust in the work place and the development of a “robust, compelling” culture.

When I reflect on the successful companies that I have worked with during the last 12 months, it has become exceptionally clear to me that they are focusing now on midlevel managers. The best were doing this work before the recession and it is very clear that they will continue to do this work after the recession. In particular, they are expanding the knowledge and skill sets of their midlevel managers in the following manner.

First, they are routinely entering into strategic level dialogues with them. Starting in small groups, they are visiting about what the company is doing and why. They explore the trends that are transforming the organization and the ones that are emerging. This is not a once in a blue moon exercise but a regular process that is done, when possible depending on the size of the company, in a face to face manner. It is an investment that yields very sound results over time.

Second, rather than thinking that the CEO and the senior managers have all of the answers, the best companies are engaging their midlevel managers and front line people in proactive problem solving. This level of tactical and strategic level reflection and action generates trust on many different levels and as well as expands perspective.

Third, they are dealing with their problem people and problematic systems. Remember Kevin Cashman’s insight: “Leaders get what they exhibit and tolerate.” From my perspective, the same is true with companies. If they do not deal with their toxic people, they will not see the rise of a purpose filled community and a new and more healthy level of interaction between all stakeholders.

Finally, they have the courage to continue their own learning. The phrase “lifelong learning” is not an abstract concept in the best companies this fall. They understand that reflection and learning generate clarity and perspective. They also create the bonds that unite people when the learning is done together.

This week, step back from the work of the moment and ask yourself how you are creating community in the workplace. If we want to create a greater level of engagement, we, ultimately, have to build a work place where caring for each other and the quality of the work we do is paramount to success.

Have a great week,


Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

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