Getting The Most from Partners outside Your Organization to Accelerate Your Success


Service At-A-Glance

  • A one-year coaching program designed to optimize outcomes with external sustainability partners.
  • A strategic six-phase approach to working with external partners so they deliver against expectations, are mutually satisfying and accelerate the pace of progress.
  • An alignment exercise to develop effective partnerships that everyone feels good about and wants to continue.



This service is a one-year coaching engagement, divided into six distinct phases, that optimizes the sustainability function’s outcomes with external partners. This program empowers you to define where you need partners, why you need them and how to get the most from these relationships. Over the course of one year, sustainability leaders work directly with coach Jody Bickel, CEO and Founder of Creekbank Associates, to achieve high-functioning, effective external partnerships that accelerate the pace of success.

As sustainability has gained traction and recognition at the highest levels of an organization, sustainability leaders have also identified the importance of external partners. Many sustainability initiatives are designed to enhance an enterprise’s Social License to Operate. External partners offer independent and objective validation that an organization is doing good by effectively stewarding natural resources. However, these partnerships often come with a set of challenges.

Sustainability leaders enter into relationships with external partners from differing pathways, sometimes by inheriting them, being approached by interested parties, or by intentionally seeking out those with aligned interests. These can include nonprofit organizations, industry associations, community and social enterprises and professional services businesses—each with its own respective reputation, agenda and resources to consider. Misalignment with external partners can lead to slow-downs, conflicts and under-performance.

External Partners Coaching creates clarity so that sustainability leaders can navigate with confidence partner selection and alignment to achieve desired outcomes. This work also benefits external partners through enhanced collaboration and shared visioning. The end result for the sustainability leader and their organization is better, faster outcomes from external partnerships that are curated for alignment with clearly identified roles and expectations. The results for the leader and their organization typically include:

  • Enhanced Social License to Operate due to better, faster progress in delivering on sustainability commitments.
  • Significantly more effective external partnering with productive, resilient and enduring relationships producing highly valued benefits for each other.
  • Third-party validation of your outcomes so they are recognized and promoted beyond your organization’s typical reach.
  • Optimization of allocated resources, including financial and social, to drive sustainability progress.
  • Sustainability leaders often experience enhanced status and greater role satisfaction with improved likelihood of substantial and enduring outcomes.


Why Is This Service Necessary?

Through our work across numerous industries and consulting with C-suite, Director, and program level roles, we have identified these common external partner challenges:

  1. The pace of sustainability and ESG initiatives is getting faster, not slower. This frequently results in rapid-partnering decisions with less than desired long-term consequences.
  2. Sustainability leaders are faced with a smorgasbord of external partner potential – representing public, private and nonprofit interests. Sorting through agendas, risks and prospective rewards to identify a beneficial path forward is not an easy task.
  3. These relationships come about in a variety of ways – inherited, mandated, intentional and coincidental. Without ongoing, deliberate review and stewardship, these relationships can lead to undesirable outcomes that are not in alignment with the goals, and need gaps can remain unaddressed.
  4. Chaotic, ill-fitted or otherwise underperforming external partner relationships drain the energy, resources and the social well-being of the sustainability leader and their organization.
  5. Opportunities to enhance Social License to Operate are completely missed our under-attained due to poor external partnering.



Who Needs This Service?

Typically, our clients are sustainability leaders who bear the responsibility to deliver on their organization’s environmental commitments. They are the tip of the spear for enhancing Social License to Operate. That’s a lot of pressure. These leaders often include:

  • Presidents and C-Suite leaders
  • Partners, Principals and Executive Directors
  • Global, National and Regional Chief Officers
  • Senior Environment and ESG Leads




This service begins with a consultation between Coach Jody Bickel and the sustainability leader. The purpose of this session is to establish the overall timing and benchmarks for this engagement. After the consultation, Coach Bickel creates a one-year customized work plan typically comprised of the following phases.


Phase One – Sustainability Outcomes Review

This phase involves two core tasks. First, Coach Bickel reviews the sustainability function’s vision and outcomes statement. This review forms a shared understanding of what the sustainability function is seeking to achieve and why it’s important to the organization. If an organization doesn’t yet have this statement, Coach Bickel will recommend our Sustainability Outcomes Visioning service, which is foundational to all downstream activity.

Second, Coach Bickel will analyze, with the sustainability leader, the status of all current external partnerships. Each partnership will be examined in light of why it exists, how it’s supposed to benefit both parties and if, in fact, those benefits have been realized. A Partner Evaluation Matrix (PEM) is the end-product of this analysis. The PEM is a rational process that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of current partnerships and informs go-forward strategies.


Phase Two – Partner Requirements

This phase is about defining which partners you need, why you need them, what outcomes you want to realize and how you can navigate to achieve those outcomes. This phase is, for all intents and purposes, the opportunity to re-imagine external partnerships from a clean slate. Coach Bickel works with the sustainability leader to define the core attributes of great partners who could really impact forward progress. This is about getting clarity internally of what external partners should accomplish for your organization.

Phase Three – Partner Expectations

In this phase, Coach Bickel works with the sustainability leader to project what external partners might want from your organization. This consideration is crucial to fostering satisfying and effective partnerships. To achieve this, Coach Bickel interviews the sustainability leader and asks them what they believe external partners want from the relationship. Coach Bickel also researches each partner to understand their mission, values and team structures. This exercise is often fruitful for identifying cultural mismatches where there is little possibility for a healthy relationship to emerge. The exercise also informs steps the sustainability leader can take to improve relationships with existing partners.


Phase Four – Partner Vetting

In this phase, Coach Bickel and the sustainability leader engage in three exercises. First, they complete a gap analysis, based on the Partner Requirements exercise above, to identify any type of missing partners. Second, the sustainability leader and Coach Bickel conduct research to identify potential new partners who could fill the gaps. Third, Coach Bickel guides the sustainability leader about strategies and logistics to approach a potential set of new partners. This can include interviews to ferret out interests, agendas, attributes, skills, overall compatibility and the expectations of both respective parties.


Phase Five – Partner Selection

In this phase, the leader and Coach Bickel review the interview results and consider options based on this information. Then internal decisions are made and enacted to potentially exit certain partnerships, make needed adjustments to others, and to onboard select new partners as appropriate. Coach Bickel works closely with the leader to clarify all partnering expectations, roles, responsibilities so that the leader can effectively carry that forward into each of the retained current and newly established external partnerships.


Phase Six – Partner Stewardship

In this ongoing phase, Coach Bickel helps the sustainability leader focus on the actions that are needed to launch, cultivate and further enrich these curated relationships. The ultimate goal is to achieve the expected optimal outcomes from each partnership. The stewardship phase is very active, designed to continuously drive synchronized partner collaboration and the achievement of sustainability milestones. This phase is comprised of:

  • Affirmation, and further clarification as needed, of outcomes, milestones, roles and responsibilities.
  • Strategic and timely resolution of conflicts and disruptions to progress and effective partnering.
  • Establishment and enhancement of the trust and rapport between the sustainability leader, the external partner and among the cross-cutting teams associated with these commitments.
  • Celebration of milestone achievements both publicly and privately that further enhance both external reputations and inter-relationship vitality.

As part of this service, Coach Bickel guides the sustainability leader to conduct an annual partnership review. Leveraging the Partner Evaluation Matrix model, each partnership is evaluated for its efficacy, milestone achievement and cultural fit. This informs go-forward strategies and the setting of new milestones.



As your trusted advisor, Coach Jody Bickel helps you achieve delivery of sustainability objectives through effective external partnerships. The sustainability leader role is one that insists on an integrated blend of social savvy and technical competency. In our experience, working with sustainability leaders from executive to program-level, the responsibilities and opportunities stemming from external partnering choices deeply informs the pace of progress and reputational outcomes. Our logical and programmatic approach tips the scales in your favor.

Beneficial outcomes we often see include:

  • External partnering chaos is minimized and desired outcomes are maximized.
  • Resource allocation, including leader time, are invested in deliberate partnering commitments with clear roles, objectives and expectations, rather than leaving it up to fate.
  • Third-party validation and broadcasting of goals, initiatives, progress and messaging are amplified.
  • The leader and their organization gain additional exposure through partnering to learn new insights on the state of the science, best practices and broader social considerations that can support their progress.
  • The organization’s Social License to Operate is elevated through improved sustainability outcomes and enhanced partnerships.


How To Get Started

Our approach for engaging with each client begins with a no-obligation initial consultation and a needs assessment. Based on each client’s situation and the unique nature of this work, we may progress through several framing sessions before formalizing an engagement. This ensures clarity of scoping and a shared understanding of risks, assumptions, variables and the timing of the work.

To get started on this process, please fill out the form below.


Get Started Now

Please fill out the form below to request a consult for our External Partners Coaching service.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.