The CEO in the New Normal: Chief Communicating Officer
Senior company executives are fully aware that we have reached a turning point that will change their role forever. After accepting the changes caused by the pandemic comes the time to take them on board and reinvent oneself to lead “the new normal”.
The key factors that a CEO should incorporate into their leadership style are numerous and highly significant, so space for managing the change itself and promoting organizational change should be made on their agenda.
The first area to work on is ensuring that the corporate purpose fits with the business targets in order to redefine the organization’s focus in the medium and long term. Companies that not only had a clearly defined purpose but also one that was truly shared with society have been able to react faster during this crisis and have earned favor with their stakeholders through such action.
There is no doubt that this period has forced us to take a long hard look at the importance held by the what for of our organizations. Going back to the drawing board, asking ourselves whether we are coherent and consistent with the purpose and what our stakeholders expect will be fundamental steps in the CEO role, as is (and will continue to be) ensuring that this purpose moves beyond a mere statement of intent to become clearly and effectively actioned for successful communication.
The senior executive must also become the main communicator
It is highly likely that this redefinition of what success is for an organization will lead to a process of adjustment in the strategy, the corporate culture and leadership models that only make sense and can be achieved if the CEO promotes it, incorporates it into the company strategy and builds a new corporate narrative capable of reaching stakeholders with the strength necessary for them to help in the upcoming transformation process.
Defining a shared purpose and activating it is just the beginning. The great evolution that was already taking place and that COVID-19 has accelerated is the incorporation of meeting the legitimate needs and expectations of stakeholders into the day-to-day running of companies. For a company to achieve success in the new normal, it will need to incorporate this into targets, strategies and action plans if it wants to be sustainable in the medium and long term.
It might seem a small change but it is actually a far-reaching revolution because it involves consideration of the listening and creation processes for stable and fruitful relations with stakeholders so that the company can have a real chance at minimizing risks and harnessing opportunities in the future. Having clear and well-managed dialogue processes with these groups and organizational intelligence to identify trends in the sectors and incorporate them into the strategy will be essential.
The self-management of a shifting role by the CEO themselves will not be simple. From the day when you realize there is a need for change, it takes some time to finally start heading down the self-transformation path. A similar process is needed to accept that the CEO must act as the front man with stakeholders in the new way your organization operates. This will require a high level of exposure to stakeholders for contextualizing the change and leading causes and plans that, once again, demonstrate the organization’s commitment to its purpose from a role of activist CEO, even taking the organization beyond its conventional boundaries and fully assuming its capacity and responsibility to influence the public domain.
CEOs can no longer hide behind corporate communication strategies and platforms. For this perception change to accompany the organizational change we are talking about, the senior executive must also become the main communicator and accept that they cannot only play this role when the news is good. COVID-19 has given us numerous examples of leaders who have used brutal honesty and hyper-transparency to generate empathy, solidarity and collaboration to get their companies out of unprecedented tough circumstances.
Culture and strategy are the cornerstones on which conduct by the entire organization should sit
Ensuring that it works and that people in the organization join the change is the next challenge to be faced. Team involvement plans will become more important to internal company management because they will be joined by the evolution of strategies and the imposition of distributed leadership in day-today operations. Companies must move fast and need management and leadership systems to start driving from middle management levels.
Ensuring teams share responsibility, switching from hierarchical structures to netarchy, eradicating the fear of mistake and enhancing the capacity of all decisions needs strong internal communication and cultural change programs. Moving from a control culture to an achievement and self-management culture is possible but requires time, patience and investment in information, training and time to convince.
Success will be measured by a capacity to lead the change and create the necessary anticipation culture
Culture and strategy are the cornerstones on which conduct by the entire organization should sit “when the CEO is not around”. So, in this period of accelerate change in how we work, strengthening those with talent engagement strategies – which represent a substantial evolutionary leap forward from traditional internal communication – is essential. Implementation can be delegated to human resources or communication departments, but the main principles should be defined by the C-suite as they will determine whether or not the company moves forward at the pace required by the CEO.
Finally, the emergence of technology is still a competitive advantage, based on Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain, the Internet of Things and the management of cyber-risks represented by working in the new era. They will become standard in a few years and those organizations that have been unable to integrate them into their management systems will become obsolete and disappear. The use of technology in dialogue processes with stakeholders and for anticipating megatrends is good profitable practice for cuttingedge organizations wishing to be sustainable in the medium term.
These are the realities that the CEO must manage. Doing it with everyone at once is always a little daunting. Success will be measured by a capacity to lead the change and create the necessary anticipation culture to earn the right each day to “open up shop” again the next. Excellence should be focused on being the best today and on always asking ourselves what we should be doing to continue being the best tomorrow.