How important is it for CIOs and other top-level executives
to communicate the corporate strategy within their departments as well as
across the entire corporation?
From the board level to the shop floor, effective
communications is regarded as being a top element for boosting and maintaining
company morale and productivity.
In uncertain economic and political times, getting the right
messages across large, complex organizations has become more important as a
means of reducing staff turnover, minimizing the risk of making mistakes and
taking any corporation’s main messages into the population.
In a working
paper, Strategic Communication in the C-Suite, published in the International Journal of Business
Communication, Jan. 20, 2017, Paul
Argenti, professor of communications at the Tuck School of Business,
researched the ways in which C-suite executives are using corporate
communications to execute strategy. In the paper, he theorized that this
process has undergone a major shift, from a tactical and superficial focus on
speeches and media placements to a more strategic and elevated level.
Based on the
primary research conducted in 15 individual, in-person interviews, Argenti found the
- The most important element is to have a
clearly articulated strategy that gets repeated broadly and consistently
throughout the organization and to the appropriate audiences.
- Deliberately developing a culture of
employee engagement emerged as central to the execution of strategy through
- Executives have to be present and
personally deliver their message. This proved to be “a critical success factor
for leaders executing strategy through communication.”
specifically, the paper found that strategy is dependent on everyone at all
levels of the company understanding the company strategy.. It must be clearly
and consistently communicated.
financial officer (CFO) of Quintiles Mike McDonnell said in an interview: “Once
a strategy has been developed, it is again all about communication. You need to
develop key phrases or buzzwords that will remind people what your corporate
goals and strategy are all about”.
This was also the
opinion of the former Governor of New Hampshire and former CEO of Knoll, John
Lynch, who emphasized the need for consistency. “The ‘Theory of the Fix’ was my
strategy for fixing Knoll: if we cut $70 million right away, the margin would
pop. This idea was discussed with all employees and Lynch “shared it with every
single person throughout the organization. I would actually see this theory
taped up on the factory floor. You could ask anyone in the company “what is the
theory for fixing Knoll?” and everyone could answer the question. Everyone knew
why we were doing it. They might not have liked it, but they were more likely
to buy into it if they were completely clear to the strategy of the firm.”
Another CFO, Doug
Laue of Davidoff of Geneva, stressed the themes of being transparent and
repeating the company’s values to help develop corporate culture.
When there is a
crises or a company is in the process of transforming itself, a leader must be
present. In previous research focused on extreme crises such as 9/11, “the
presence and even the voice of the CEO in particular was critical to restoring
the organization to normalcy or moving the organization to a new place,”
situations, Quintiles’ McDonnell said: “This is hard because you are in crisis mode and on
your back foot. There simply isn’t enough time to communicate eloquently. Long,
well-thought-out emails become impossible. My experience in these situations is
that there is no substitute for in-person communication. Call short impromptu
meetings when you can and bring the right people into the room. Tell them what
is going on. Thank them for their efforts, and tell them that you care. Remind
them to keep their perspective . . . and that things will get better.
Distinguish between what can be controlled and what cannot. Seek their
commitment and promise the same in return.”
research has found that corporate managers attribute negative events, such as a
profit drop, to the environment and positive events to themselves, CFOs consider profits to be their most
important metric for stakeholders. Still, there are times when they also have
to communicate other factors to their staff, shareholders and the corporation.
The summary of
the paper found that the best communicators of corporate strategy were
personally involved, and engaged with their employees at all levels to stress
corporate goals and culture. As the paper stated:
- Since more companies are global and
national, “corporate leadership needs to be deliberate in encouraging employees
to act as one, aligned both strategically and culturally.” This means everyone
has to be “on the same page” in order to execute strategic initiatives.
- It is very important to be consistent and
maintain open, constant two-way communication. “Transparency builds trust, and
employees are more engaged with an organization’s values and vision if they
feel that they are part of the conversation,” the author said.
- “The best organizations today have leaders
who are omnipresent and hyper-communicators.” Good communicators and leaders
are physically present.
“Given that strategic approaches
to communication are much more important in organizations than ever before, we
as academics have an obligation to help the business leaders of tomorrow find
ways to be more effective communicators and leaders,” Argenti said.
By Chuck Epstein
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