Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Now available: My conference essay on The Future of Strategic Employee Volunteering

November 20, 2011

On November 28, a conference took place in Vienna, Austria on the future of strategic Employee Volunteering. This conference was part of a European Union series, on the occasion of 2011 being the European Union Year of Volunteering.

The ‘usual suspects’ were there – representatives of IBM and TNT, Bea Boccalandro, Chris Jarvis and – myself. You can have a look at the program (in German) here:
The conference then traveled on to Madrid and Budapest, and in 2012 it will still take place in Prague and Bratislava.

On the occasion of this series of conferences, a Global Corporate Volunteering Good Practice Case Book will be introduced to which I have contributed. It consists of 10 case studies from multinational companies, including IBM, GlaxoSmithKline and Volkswagen, as well as essays from international experts like Bea Boccalandro and Chris Jarvis. After having presented at the Vienna conference, I am now posting my own essay here: Understanding Permeable Boundaries_The Future of Strategic Employee Involvement_V Scheubel 2011. I argue for no longer creating a split between Employee Volunteering and Corporate Community Involvement, a split between sectors, and a split between company and society. I argue for competency-based secondments of employees towards innovative Corporate Community Involvement partnerships.

An abbreviated version (shorter case examples) will be published in the case book in April 2012. The casebook will be published in English, German and Spanish and will be available in digital format via its own website. You can already pre-order a free copy of this Global Corporate Volunteering Good Practice Case BookCasebook_Bestellkarte


Engaging stakeholders around the topic of sustainability

October 11, 2011 invited me to contribute to their online conversations, talking about the role corporate communicators have in the context of sustainability.

My contribution engages with stakeholder expectations and their view of corporate performance, and with the opportunity for communications professionals to engage in stakeholder relationships (also through social media) and allow stakeholders to become sustainability consultants to the company.

Read the full article here: Engaging stakeholders around the topic of sustainability VScheubel Oct 2011

Spoke on Sustainability at IABC event in Frankfurt in August

September 11, 2011

On 29 August, the International Association of Business Communicators invited me to speak at their luncheon event in Frankfurt about the topic of Sustainability and how it is relevant to business communicators.

My main points were about how the topic of sustainable organizations (not just companies) becomes more and more important to stakeholders, and how communicators, as the first to engage with stakeholders, need to go beyond the classic ‘communication push’ towards engaging in real, dialogic relationships with stakeholders. I expanded on the benefits of using social media – for getting known in the community, receiving lots of useful information, and creating valuable connections with stakeholders.

Also got a chance to recommend a few fellow CSR tweeters!

Watch a short post-event video interview here:

On CSR: In Debate in Dubai in July

June 20, 2011

On July 6 in Dubai at the Capital Club, I was in debate with Mishal Kanoo, Deputy Chairman of Kanoo Group, on the seemingly age-old question whether companies should be responsible just to their shareholders or also to their multiple stakeholders – and how so …:

The debate was broadcast live on the web – here’s the link:

City 7TV showed a summary of the debate, with interviews – watch it on You Tube, min. 4:15 – 7:57:

I was also interviewed live on the topic of CSR on Dubai Eye business radio that same morning – listen to the podcast:

So who’s the client, really?

June 7, 2011

You know this situation: You have built a relationship with a prospective client slowly, sometimes over a year and a half. You have a good connection now, have some familiarity and trust. You get your first client contract, and you and your client start working together. Your ideas are appreciated, your work is valued – you have agreement about the way forward. Your client indicates that there is more work for you to come, over the next few months – or even years. You think everything is great.

And then it happens – sometimes only after a couple of years, sometimes after a few months. The unexpected. Your client’s (new) boss gets in the picture: “My (new) boss wants to meet you.” Oops – up until now you may not even have realized there was a boss you might have to deal with. Or you had a rather good connection to the ‘old’ boss, and wonder what that new person is going to be like.

Ideally, you’d like to follow your tried and trusted approach here: getting to know that person, and allowing that person to get to know you – taking time to build familiarity and trust, and then contracting on how to do some work together, before even starting to do the work.

Only, it’s not going to happen. What do you get? If you’re lucky, one ‘meet and greet’ with the boss – and if you’re lucky, the two of you ‘click’, and you get approval to continue your work with your client. If you’re less lucky and you don’t ‘click’, that boss may look at you with a bit of suspicion.

If you’re even less lucky, the boss ‘gets in the way’ – does not like your approach, knows better than you, or finds your rates too expensive. All of those are not good news. They may mean less or no work for you with that client in the future.

Which – each and every time of going through this experience, as many of us have – leads to the question: Who is the client, really? Is it that person with who you have established that nice working relationship? Or is it really that person’s boss, who can decide whether you’re the person they want to work with and whether they want to give you work at all?

Sometimes, you may keep the work, but whereas your initial client treated you as a partner, the (new) boss might be more inclined to just give you orders top-down.

As consultants, we don’t want to be agency people, we don’t want to be just service providers – as David Maister says, we want to be ‘trusted advisors’ (

So what can we do? Well, there can always be surprises – and new bosses coming in. We may always have to consider how to make the best of the situation, where to compromise – or whether to quit.

However, whenever possible in the initial relationship building and contracting phase, it helps to ask: ‘So who’s your boss? How is her/his involvement with this work? What are her/his priorities? How may what she/he needs from me differ from what you need from me? Would it make sense to have a three-way meeting early on?’

That way, hopefully, you can build that collaboration – rather than being ‘confronted’ with each other rather late in the process and potentially experiencing a sense of mutual exclusion rather than early inclusion.

What are your thoughts about this? What have you experienced – and what did you make of the situation?

Skills-based volunteering for retirees

January 26, 2011

My father is almost 72. He’s in perfect shape and interested in the state of the world and the global economy. He knows his ways around agriculture just as well as around real estate just as well as he’s a seasoned investor and there’s nothing he doesn’t know about the stock exchange.  And most of all, ever since he retired, he’s so bored.

My ex-husband speaks three languages, used to be a Managing Director, has a background in education, has lived in four different countries and traveled the world, and has an extensive business network. And most of all, ever since he retired, he’s so bored.

Already years ago a friend of mine pointed out how the concept of retirement has become quite redundant in our times, in many countries, especially for so-called white collar workers. Decades ago, when people were working very hard physically, the concept of retirement made sense – and often, people did not even live for that many years after they retired.

Nowadays it’s all different. My ex-husband thought he looked forward to retirement – finally time to sleep in, practice the jazz trumpet, travel, read all those books. Oh well, he enjoyed it for about six months. Then he started missing work.

What is it that people tend to miss when they retire? Being in touch with other people, and having something meaningful to do – something that gives them a sense of accomplishment, of making a difference, of getting recognition.

Interestingly, still rather few retirees consider skills-based volunteering. Even more interestingly, it’s rather women than men who tend to volunteer. I also wonder how actively the NGO sector taps into the whole retiree pool for getting skills-based support. These are people who could help NGOs with their strategy, their marketing, their accounting, with fundraising, investment strategies, negotiating partnerships – you name it. This could be free consulting!

I’ve seen a few retired managers take on skills-based volunteering. I remember particularly a high-ranking manager from BMW. He spoke up at a conference where I was a panelist, and he was just glowing when he shared how much his involvement meant to him. He volunteers part-time, around 10 to 15 hours a week, and he is amazed how useful his management and leadership skills from the automobile world are to the drug counselling center where he volunteers.

Another great example to me is the high-ranking manager from a major oil company who upon his retirement got seconded to a big international development NGO, with the company even providing some compensation for his time spent there.

Why do I write about this? We read so much about volunteering, be it on people’s personal time or as employee volunteering. I miss seeing more on skills-based volunteering for retirees – something that is becoming ever more relevant in our ageing societies in the so-called Western world, and something that is certainly a triple win: NGOs get invaluable skills contributed for free. Retirees don’t fall into a black hole of boredom, instead feel fulfilled from making a meaningful contribution. And the company can still proudly report on retirees volunteering in its CR report! It ups the total numbers of participants and hours, and it provides the human interest stories.

By the way, my ex-husband found his volunteering job eventually. He’s taking care of marketing the region where he lives in France for free, just getting his expenses paid – thus helping both their trade relations and their tourism.

I’m still looking for the right kind of involvement for my Dad – his favorite would be some work in Southern Africa! Any takers?

Engaging the whole organization around sustainability: It needs bringing CR and Change practitioners together!

October 17, 2010

About time for another blogpost – this one will be about CSR/Sustainability and change, and how practitioners from both sides need to work together. The urgency to write about this arose from attending the sustainability-focused Ashridge conference ‘Leading Organisations of Tomorrow’ ( last week.

Attending the conference and engaging in many conversations with fellow practitioners made me realize what my own advocacy is really about: engaging the whole organization around sustainability. I believe that CSR/Sustainability can only work, move out of a marginal position and achieve scale, if it is looked at  – and implemented as – a long-term change initiative for the whole organization.

But here’s the current reality:

While the few exceptional organizations have managed engagement well, CSR/Sustainability managers/directors in the majority of organizations are faced with the task of engaging the whole organization around sustainability – and don’t have a clue how to do that creatively, professionally and effectively. How do they go about it, other than, simply speaking, holding a ppt presentation for the board and pushing information mails on information-overloaded employees? They are also supposed to effectively dialogue and engage with external stakeholder groups – and so many I have met are scared of that, as they simply don’t know how to effectively engage in difficult conversations that might center around conflict.

Change/OD consultants, whether in-house or external, could be really helpful in all of these contexts, and many of them care personally about the topic of sustainability. However, there still seems to be deep fragmentation between these circles – a fragmentation that urgently needs to be bridged, in my opinion.

Interestingly, one company that really stood out with a different approach here already in the middle of the Noughties was O2 in Germany: They had the change consultants right there as members of their CR Steering Group. Great!

Change/OD consultants already work inside organizations on issues around culture and values, inclusive strategy development, and various change initiatives. They tend to be excellent and sensitive facilitators, also capable of providing a safe environment for difficult stakeholder conversations. Strangely enough, the fewest of them seem to have looked at sustainability as a long-term change initiative for the whole organization. At the conference last week, I noticed that many of them, in their own understanding of sustainability, seem to be in the ‘late majority’ segment for that topic …

At the conference, a company-internal OD consultant said: “I really want to get involved with the sustainability topic. I think I want to put it on the agenda of a workshop with top leaders in the company I’ll be running soon.”

I asked: “What about the CSR/Sustainability people in your company? Do you know each other? Have you ever talked with them?” Her answer was that a) she did not know them/had never met them and b) she did not want to involve them in designing that topic for her workshop. I was left puzzled …

On the other hand, I would assume that most CSR/Sustainability managers don’t know what good change/OD consultants can help them with: Effective engagement of both the board and of employees internally, and of other stakeholder groups externally, through e.g. interviews and facilitated online ‘jams’, workshops and focus groups, thinking and inquiring together, Future Search or Appreciative Inquiry initiatives, inclusive strategy and innovation work, and so on. The CSR/Sustainability people could get into highly effective engagement initiatives together with in-house or external people who really know their way around such engagement, and who bring the required training, experience, pedagogy, methodologies and ‘tools’.

Effectively engaging the board, middle management and employees in general creates buy-in from everybody in the organisation, creates opportunities for sustainability becoming part of organizational culture and values, for employees taking ownership for sustainability in their respective functions, and for employees contributing lots of innovation potential around sustainability. Effectively engaging external stakeholders creates improved understanding, might resolve conflicts, and can also contribute a lot of innovation potential.

CSR/Sustainability managers, when shown what change/OD consultants can do in working together with them, tend to lean back, visibly relax, and breathe a huge sigh of relief, saying “why did you not tell me earlier? where have you been all this time? when can we start working together?”

On the other hand, change/OD consultants who also care about sustainability (be it ecological sustainability, sustainable employee relations or sustainable leadership) can find here a really meaningful and fulfilling field of own engagement.

What’s missing, I find, are large-scale opportunities – e.g. workshops, conferences – to bring the two circles together: for getting to know each other, for generating improved mutual understanding, and for mutual exploration of opportunities.

Why am I passionate about this topic? As said at the beginning, if we want to achieve much-needed scale and effective implementation of organization sustainability, in my understanding it is the only way forward. Ongoing fragmentation will not get us there.

When I brought this up at the conference, the lead facilitator asked back: “Would you be willing to take this project on?” Well yes, I would. I’ve decided to really look into this and try to make it happen for next year. Collaborators most welcome!


NGOs and Corporations: Collaboration and Conflict

September 23, 2010

At the International CSR Conference in Berlin on September 23, this topic is getting the attention of a major plenary session. A few months ago, there was a major cross-sector panel on the same issue, featuring key environmental NGOs and, amongst other corporate representatives, a major energy company. This panel, coincidentally, also took place in Berlin, and a key question there was, just as well as at the conference here now: Can you collaborate and criticize at the same time?

Corporate representatives often assume that NGOs should be thrilled about the opportunity to partner with them. I must admit that, coming from the corporate side, I also held that attitude for a long time. I am still passionate about cross-sector partnerships and their opportunities.

NGOs, however, are often concerned with a mix-up of their roles. As civil society representatives, aren’t they supposed to be independent, critical of and, if necessary, protest corporate activities? They are concerned whether they are giving up power, will be influenced or interfered with too much, compromise their own stakeholder base – becoming “corporatist” and “losing their power and their teeth”, as Michael Yaziji of IMD’s Forum for Corporate Sustainability Management calls it during the plenary session at the conference.

Cross-sector collaboration is certainly an interaction of ideologies, value sets, visions, missions and expectations that can become quite complex and controversial – and I am noticing that for corporations, it is certainly necessary to be sensitive of this and pay good attention to NGOs’ concerns. An important questions to be asked is: Taking complexity and concerns into consideration, what can be done to build a relationship of mutuality/reciprocity and trust? In that context, a question to be asked as well is: What does each side have to give up (e.g. interests, positions, attitudes) to collaborate well?

Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International, said wisely yesterday: “You need to always keep the dialogue open, while keeping the right distance.” What the ‘right’ distance is probably needs to be negotiated case by case, and re-negotiated periodically and situationally?

What do I mean by understanding diversity and offering mutuality?

April 25, 2010

These days, there is a lot of talk about diversity – and yet I still often feel like there is limited understanding of the notion. Diversity is about more than age or gender, cultural origin (I don’t like the notion of ‘race’, as I consider it a political concept) or religious background, sexual or political orientation, physical or mental ability, socio-economic status  – ultimately it is about respecting each and every person, being and nature as having a right to be and to exist in their own unique and complex ways, defining their own views and their own identity. To me, it extends to understanding that a person does not remain the same over years, but can be different and evolving every single day. I’d like to go as far as to suggest taking nobody for granted, not assuming we ‘know’ somebody, but remaining open and curious – towards your nearest and dearest just as well as towards friends and colleagues or strangers – and to ask every day anew: “Who are you today? What matters to you today?” This is about respect. It is about acceptance. It is about inclusion, and about granting everybody a sense of belonging and a right to participation. It is about something called ‘intersubjectivity’ – seeing, understanding and respecting the other person as a subject in themselves, with their own identity. This is different from perceiving the other person, being or nature as an ‘object’ – which would be about projecting our own meaning-making about them on them (and themhaving no – potentially corrective – voice in that).

These days, we hear about inter-cultural competence. I’d like to lobby for inter-diversity competence, for inter-subjective competence. (With the latter, I thought I might have come up with a slightly odd notion, but I googled it and found indeed a book refering to the same notion: ‘Cosmopolitics – thinking and feeling beyond the nation’, by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins.)

If we each engage in this mutual give-and-take of understanding each other in our highly diverse and complex identities and ways – of seeing the world, making our own meaning and creating our lives – if we all offer each other this kind of understanding, respect and inclusion, then that is about mutuality.

These days, mutuality is the most important thing to me – I find that no relationship of any kind can be satisfying if there isn’t sufficient mutuality offered. To me, this is so in personal relationships just as well as in professional connections. We need it between lovers, between parents and children, between friends and neighbors, between co-workers, between superiors and the people reporting to them, between organisations and their stakeholders, between nation states. If one keeps giving and the other one does not reciprocate or reciprocates badly, the balance is off. I find it is important that we pay attention to always balancing out the mutuality account, in a good way.

I guess these are the two biggest things moving me these days – seeing and understanding each other in our everyday-anew complex identities, and offering each other positive mutuality.

As my wonderful tutor in university, Caryn Vanstone, once said: “We are always in relation. We cannot not be in relation. What matters is the quality of the relationship.” And as mentioned above, that extends beyond people – to all beings, and to nature.

More Power to the Connectors

April 7, 2010

I loved this article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, as I’ve always considered myself a connector. Find the full thing on – yet here are the most important excerpts:

America in the 20th century was called a “society of organizations.” Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.

Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one’s portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies. Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effective than centralized or concentrated leadership. Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.

This changes the nature of career success. It is not enough to be technically adept or even to be interpersonally pleasant. Power goes to the “connectors”: those people who actively seek relationships and then serve as bridges between and among groups. Their personal contacts are often as important as their formal assignment. In essence, “She who has the best network wins.”

Connectors have always been more promotable, even in traditional hierarchies. Wherever teamwork across positions is desirable, natural connectors who instinctively reach across divides to form relationships get the plum jobs. Network stars have social capital — a stockpile of personal relationships with many people whom they regularly connect to one another.

To be known is to be in the know. This is why connectors with big networks have so much power. They don’t need to be the formal boss if they have the connections. Nick Donofrio, former IBM executive vice president, encouraged 90,000 technical people to think of themselves as working for him, even though they did not work directly for him in any formal or official way. He answered hundreds of daily emails personally, counting on this as a major bottom-up source of information about issues and opportunities.

Social capital is often, but not entirely, correlated with length of organizational experience. The other factor is whether the nature of the job encourages getting to know large numbers of people — that is, whether the job involves mobility, a portfolio of varied projects, and participation in initiatives that call for communication across groups.

In short, giving people work that spans boundaries is a way to grow the potential for more connectors, in a nice multiplier effect. But ultimately the power of connectors lies in themselves. It comes from their own willingness to continue making relationships, passing on information, and introducing people to one another.