The New CCO: Chief Conscience Officer

Salesforce CCO evokes the words of George Washington to define the fundamental opportunity for communicators to lead: "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience."

Salesforce CCO proposes redefining the communications role as Chief Conscience Officer.
Salesforce CCO proposes redefining the communications role as Chief Conscience Officer.

It has proven to be a labor of love to keep hope and conscience alive in 2018.

The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer not only spotlights the dismal state of trust in the major institutions that shape our daily lives – it also unearths the reasons behind these sharp declines.

The record drops in trust in every global institution result from people’s belief that the officials they elect, the companies they work for and buy from, and the media that inform them are putting their own interests above those of their stakeholders and, in essence, betraying their core mission and values.

Against this backdrop, it's no surprise to see the rise of social and media echo chambers and more basic tribal instincts. When the truth is up for grabs, everyone will claim it as their own or retreat to the version with which they are most comfortable.

This is a pivotal moment for the communications profession. We have come a long way from the days of press stunts and endless pitching. In an environment where facts are malleable and "controlling the narrative" is paramount, we can either risk being relegated to our prior spin-doctor status, or use this moment to elevate our roles and the organizations we serve.

It's time to rethink our roles as Chief Communications Officers, and evolve to become Chief Conscience Officers. This crisis of trust we are experiencing presents us with an opportunity to accelerate a transformation that has already begun. In a multilateral world that provides daily reminders of its inability or unwillingness to tackle the thorniest issues, the private sector can serve as the greatest platform for change.

This starts with the fundamental belief that great companies don't just create insanely great products and services or maximize profits for shareholders; they stand up for our values on behalf of all stakeholders - including employees, customers, partners, community, and the planet.

In this multi-stakeholder world, the Chief Conscience Officer becomes the ultimate truth-teller within their organization, responsible for ensuring its stakeholders' views are represented - not only in the ways a company communicates, but also in the actions it takes and the impact it creates.

Investment management firm BlackRock founder and CEO Laurence Fink's recent shareholder letter reminded business leaders that their companies must do more than simply turn in the numbers expected of them every quarter.

They must also fully articulate their service to communities, with the explicit engagement of their board of directors, to ensure Fink’s ongoing support: "To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, this notion is not antithetical to Milton Friedman's view that profit is paramount. When considered through the lens of the business disruption and activist movements that are commonplace in today's corporate universe, it's clear: businesses that do not evolve and adapt to meet their stakeholders' expectations will be replaced by those that do. This is a conversation I've heard in multiple boardrooms over the past decade.

I'm not alone in this belief. Our industry's leading body, the Arthur W. Page Society, is doubling down on its long-held principle that communications connects people to build shared beliefs, form community, and ignite action.

Page's new board chair, Text100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes, will lay down the gauntlet at its annual spring meeting and outline ways in which the society will march into the next era to unite the world's best communicators to transform business for the better.

This commitment requires courage. I've been fortunate to work at two founder-led companies where the CEOs also share this worldview. This has driven them - Starbucks and Salesforce - to lead on issues ranging from creating jobs for veterans to pledging pay equality, to the tune of millions of dollars’ worth of investment.

I have admired from the sidelines the actions of companies such as REI, with its #OptOutside campaign that gave its employees a paid day off on Black Friday, one of the most heavily trafficked shopping days of the year, staying true to the brand's values and ethos - 1.4 million people and 170 organizations joined REI on the day.

Most importantly, these actions proved not only to be the right things to do - they also earned both companies the trust of their stakeholders and increased their value in the marketplace.

Success will require collaboration. The CCO is not the only resource in a company to exercise sound judgment on behalf of the multidisciplinary organism that is today's modern enterprise. But I do believe the modern CCO is well-placed to work with peers across the organization on behalf of the cause of truth, respect for stakeholders, and the restoration of trust.

Anne Frank once wrote: "Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness."

It is time for the communications profession to break out its collective matchbooks and strike, to become the light necessary to see past the current denigration of trust and emerge as one of the world's foremost catalysts for truth.

Corey duBrowa is CCO of Salesforce.

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