"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
“Sustainability” is not always sustainable. Simply, doing and describing what you do as sustainable does not make it so. For organizations (and us, personally!) to be sustainable in what we do, we have to be sustainable in who we are and how we see the world. This gives us our best shot at doing something that is actually going to get or generate sustainable results. In the following series of six posts I will introduce the six levels of engaging in sustainability: Compliance, Conformity, Cooperation, Collaboration, Coherence and Constellation. We use these at Interkannections to help our clients clarify their current goals around sustainability and map out their paths for deepening their practice and impact.
At the Collaboration level a commonly occurring question is “why we are doing what we’re doing?” This is often driven by a desire to be more involved and inclusive internally and externally. Like Cooperation, external stakeholder engagement is still largely targeted and arbitrary although the quality of engagement is less transactional due to the collaborative nature of involvement.
- Sustainability is internally mandated and guides internal and external partner and project selection and areas of collaboration.
- Example sustainability activities: stewarding NPOs on good business practices, co-development of green technologies, cross-functional and multi-level internal initiatives, including NGO’s, local communities and other external shareholders in the project and product and service development process.
- Being at this level is focused on engaging with others in sustainable work. An organic expansion of Cooperation, we begin to reach out and look for opportunities to work together on targeted and selected projects.
- What we see at this level is the power and value in including and embracing multiple perspectives, multiple win relationships and transparency in our business.
- What we are doing is reaching out to and opening dialogues with suppliers, external stakeholders and, even, adversaries to include them in the scope of our sustainability practices.
- What we get from Collaboration are deeper relationships with external partners that typically involve learning and development on both sides. This tends to generate more impressive PR and better management of risk as multiple-win and longer-term relationships become more common. Internally, potential for organizational learning and greater innovation increases as information flows and is shared across functional and divisional boundaries.
- Remaining centered in collaboration is marked by multiple and fruitful initiatives and relationships that, though multi-faceted and value generating are not fully integrated and coordinated into our business, work and lives.
We believe that Collaboration is the first level of sustainability that may actually be sustainable. Companies that rate their sustainability or philanthropy efforts as very effective are those that engage and collaborate with other businesses and stakeholders. At this level we begin working in interconnected and mutually dependable and mutually influencing ways. Communities of interest and practice develop and become self-organizing and self-managing. We discover opportunities for new value streams and create the potential to dissolve adversarial relationships. Our style of work, interaction and value generation begin to leverage the value of systems thinking and self-organizing systems by mirroring the non-linear workings of open systems.
Tags: Coherence, collaboration, Compliance, Conformity, Constellation, cooperation, NGO's, organizational learning, philanthropy, self-organizing systems, stakeholder engagement, supply chain, sustainability, systems thinking, value stream