The CEO's most powerful asset is knowing how to communicate

The world of the CEO is a world of competing priorities: clients must be kept happy, new work must be won, and employees attracted and retained.

The CEO is more than a business leader - they can be a great comms asset too, argues Dan Pender
The CEO is more than a business leader - they can be a great comms asset too, argues Dan Pender

They also may need to engage with audiences that do not necessarily like them.

Knowing why, what and how to communicate, internally and externally, is the CEO’s most powerful asset.

Understanding its power requires understanding how the world of business has changed over the last decade.

The internet has brought the commercial world closer to the consumer, creating new relationship dynamics.

The supermarket, tech company or sportswear brand no longer simply ‘sell products’, but join us in conversation, promote causes, and take stands in social, cultural and political matters.

Employees demand the same. They want to work for companies with vision and purpose.

The CEO isn’t just a businessperson

In order for a CEO to deliver upon their strategic objectives in this new world, they must first acknowledge that they are no longer just the suit at the top of the food chain.

In a post-Steve Jobs world, CEOs are visionaries and leaders as much as they are businesspeople.

They are "scene-setters" and "culture-shapers", and employees look to them for information, guidance, and inspiration.

While many CEOs get the basics of communications right, they still lack an overarching communications strategy.

This, and weaknesses in how CEOs engage, is harming morale and productivity, especially during times of change.

As many as 38 per cent of employees have heard or read a story about their employer in the media before the news was announced internally, while 40 per cent say that, in general, their CEO rates only "okay", "poor" or "very poor" for their communications ability.

The best employees value good leadership and direction

When the CEO doesn’t lead or avoids dealing with challenges and crises, these employees grow disillusioned and look elsewhere for work.

In an extremely tight labour market full of opportunity, a confident, proactive CEO is often the only thing keeping a good employee from jumping ship.

When the CEO keeps their door shut, they may even be harming innovation. Two in five employees say they don’t feel comfortable approaching their CEO with a new business idea.

How to improve

CEOs are decision-makers, but decisions often divide, particularly in tough or complex situations.

The CEO should always seek to explain to employees why decisions are taken.

In doing so, they earn respect and trust, while building a culture of open communication.

Second, during a challenging period, the CEO needs to frame the conversation early so the narrative doesn’t run away with itself.

Without the CEO to conduct what can be a noisy symphony of external news stories, negative developments spiral out of control and positive developments get overlooked.

Third, to achieve sustainable, long-term success, the CEO must fully integrate strategic communications into every business department.

No decision should be made without a plan to communicate it.

There is a direct, causal relationship between how much time and money the CEO invests in communications and increased employee retention and revenue.

Getting communications right impacts the bottom line.

A successful organisation is built on successful communication, which in turn is only made possible by a successful organisational culture.

It’s the CEO’s job to lead from the front and own the role of the culture-shaper.

Dan Pender is the managing director of PR360

Thumbnail image ©ThinkstockPhotos

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