Thou Shalt Heed the Need for a CEO’s Communications Skills
I received a press release from the HR consulting group Robert Half Management Resources which posed the following question to 1,400 CFOs at companies across America: what is the most desired leadership quality in today’s business leaders?
The leading answer, at 31%, was integrity. There was a tie for the second leading answer: both experience and communication skills came in at 27%.
Integrity, of course, goes without saying – particularly in the way Corporate America conducts itself. Experience seems like a no-brainer to me – few inexperienced people ever gain executive leadership positions unless they have a very powerful daddy (shout out to the Murdoch family – g’day, mates!).
The fact that communication skills came in second as a key quality for business leadership actually surprised me. Paul McDonald, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources, commented in the press release: “Financial executives must be able to translate complex concepts into terms other audiences, from investors and board members to employees and the general public, can understand. The ability to motivate and inspire also is crucial for fostering loyal and productive employees.”
McDonald’s comment is fascinating to me because it puts the onus on corporate communications directly in the lap of the CEO or company president – that individual is the ultimate PR spokesperson, not the communications director (or whatever title the PR person is given).
But then this raises new questions: does the PR person have adequate access to the CEO to determine the depth and scope of the CEO’s communication skills, and to make sure these skills are being used properly? Not every person is a natural talker or is comfortable addressing large groups of people, and I’ve been in plenty of meetings where a CEO’s speech could easily be bottled and sold as sleeping pills.
But if the PR person cannot emphasize the importance of communications skills to the CEO, or cannot even get an appointment with the CEO to get that point across, then there’s going to be a problem in the near-future.
In researching my book “The New PR,” I received repeated confirmations of what I feared the most: PR people within the corporate world lack the status and influence to stress the importance of communications (both external and internal). Part of this is not their fault, as external communications usually has to run the gamut of legal and risk management approval before it gets aired while internal communications is often shucked to HR people.
Yet it is also partly the fault of the PR people that they have the C-Suite door slammed in their faces. Until such time that PR people think like business leaders, rather than wordsmiths, they cannot and should not be taken seriously. Anyone who doesn’t see PR as a vital tool in strengthening a company’s bottom line fails to understand the power of PR.
FYI, the third quality cited in the aforementioned survey on desirable business leadership qualities was technical or functional expertise, which came in at 11%. Now that’s a quality many corporate PR people need to brush up on!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
Prima di tutto vorrei ringraziare Toni Muzi Falconi di prconversations.com per averci segnalato l'importanza di questa storia.
Here’s an excellent example of a corporation doing it right and utilizing social media to LISTEN to the “conversation.”
Meet our new friend Roberto Zangrandi. Sig Zangrandi heads Corporate Social Responsibility with Enel, the largest electric utility in Italy. Prior to Enel, he was a financial journalist with a number of leading Italian magazines, and he also served as Head, International Media Relations at Fiat. He is visiting professor for Public Relations Theory and Techniques at Udine, Teramo Universities and is Founding Chairman of the CSR Manager Network of Italy. Excuse me but Roberto’s the real deal.
It is our distinct pleasure to have him with us here today. So without further ado... Sig. Zangrandi.
Enel’s CSR Sustainability Meter
How a Web Tool Can Open “One-with-One” Constituent Dialogue
By Roberto Zangrandi
Head Corporate Social Responsibility
The place is Italy and my company is Enel, the leading electric utility and one of Europe’s leading energy players. Enel, with a shareholder base of 2.5 million, I am proud to say in recent years has become an internationally recognized benchmark for its corporate responsibility approach and strategy. Actually, according to the AccountAbility’s ranking recently published by Fortune, we are sixth in the world. But for all the accolades and recognition we’ve received for traditional stakeholder communications -- with segments such as employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, local communities – last week we launched a new cutting-edge tool aimed at developing a direct dialogue with individual stakeholders. Enel launched a sustainability meter (see http://csrmeter.palomarlab.net/it).
First question, why? Well, in recent years we’ve learned that one can commission a lot of useful and sophisticated quali/quantitative surveys investigating stakeholders segment by segment; but when it comes to receiving in depth feelings about the company on the individuals composing those segments, one does not usually find many clues. Thus, the challenge is to develop a simple, attractive and revealing tool capable of fostering one-with-one relationship and dialogue. The Web, and especially today’s new social media tools, now gives us the ability to create and facilitate virtual communities. In theory at least, we saw the possibility of building and managing one-with-one relationships broadly.
Our inspiration? The original idea came to us more than a year ago, when a team of bright geeks (Palomar New Media) enabled Italian web visitors to express their views on 25 hot political issues in an election period which allowed them to instantly measure their positions to the policies voiced by the many different running political parties. More than 650,000 voters checked this out on a dedicated web site in a few weeks and positioned themselves online. One of the member of our CSR team, Pierluigi Orati, said, “hey… why aren’t we talking to these geeks?’ And with the support of Gianluca Comin, EVP Corporate External Relations, we did and began work to jointly develop a system. After a few months what we were able to devise is a web tool that allows the stakeholder to readily determine their proximity in relationship to Edel’s CSR model. To confirm our commitment to move as close as possible to his/her position, we also ask our interlocutor to select at least three (out of eight) priority operational CSR projects, either in progress or about to be launched. Of course, we than will use that information to help tailor various CSR projects, as needed.
Are there limitations? Of course. At this stage, almost as many as there are opportunities. First: inputs are clearly not statistically reliable. Second: self profiling is not yet mandatory, so we risk losing precious information on the specific identity of our voluntary interlocutors. And thirdly, the issues appraised are unilaterally suggested by the company, as well as the areas of improvement. That said, as we make preliminary adjustments to the system, we intend to “open up” additional space for qualitative comments and commit to providing immediate and personalized feedback. Frankly, we’re very excited to get the conversation going.
Some preliminary results? As of yesterday we’ve gleaned the following:
14% of early adopters are between 40 and 55 years old while “future generations” total 33%. 37% are males and 16% females. More than 10% are students, 16% employees, 22% self employed. Singles are 13%, couples with kids 25%.
51% think the company should focus on high dividends, 77% believe corporate governance is important, 95% think that volume and quality of debt needs to be kept under control.
More than 72% give equal opportunity practices a high rank.
63% consider their electricity bill fair and 84% are positive about the interest of ethical funds in our company.
Social and environmental policies are important to almost 87% of the respondents.
84% believe development of renewable energy sources to be core for future development, and 61% agree with nuclear powered production while 39% strongly oppose it.
Carbon emission reduction and renewable sources of energy are the most popular operative projects for almost 37%. 15% ask for a strong commitment to educate the public on smarter energy use.
Now, of course, we now need to take that information and facilitate the dialogue with top management and strategy planners.
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