22 September 2015

The Artisans of Connection – A Reinvention of Corporate Affairs

The function of Corporate Affairs has evolved considerably from the tactical, execution-driven approach of the 1990’s and is now ultimately responsible for everything to do with internal and external communications, PR, public policy and government relations. With an outside-in spotlight on CEO’s and the ever-present threat of social media disruption, practitioners must find effective ways to create sustainable value with stakeholders, who mobilise at lightning speed to challenge boardroom agenda and brand reputation.

The destabilisation of ‘institutional power’ and emergence of a more conscious consumer ‘collective power’ has become the conversation of our time. With corporate governance and representation in crisis, the evolution of organisational culture from a traditional command-and-control model to a decentralised and collaborative ‘ecosystem’, seems the logical way forward.

In this new context, Corporate Affairs practitioners find themselves well outside of their comfort zones requiring a new ‘essential skill set’. Once hailed the ‘artisans of persuasion’ and typically chosen for past experience in journalism and politics, they are now behind the eight-ball seeking ways to build stronger ties with stakeholders, realising the cascading nature of communications to which they are so adept, fails to inspire human connection.

In an interview with Fortune.com MWP Insider last week Mondelez CEO, Irene Rosen states, “Silence is more frightening than transparency. One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past year is the importance of leading from the front in challenging times. What I mean by that is getting out to the markets, providing employees with context for the changes we’re making and being transparent about what’s working and what’s not.”

One thing is certain – to survive and thrive involves a constant process of collaboration, innovation and realignment. Notwithstanding, companies are recognising increased demands for individual empowerment and the importance of including consumers in the design and growth of their business.

For ‘old school’ managers hearing this information can be akin to Neo from The Matrix taking the ‘blue pill’ and for the first time they see the world differently. Instead of a need to command-and-control the ‘desert of the real’, the opportunity is to transform and emerge powerfully as ‘artisans of connection’ – the producers and co-creators of context.

In 2012 British politician and former diplomat Paddy Ashdown gave a spellbinding Ted Talk in Brussels entitled ‘The Global Power Shift’ stating, “We are all now deeply, deeply, deeply interconnected. And what that means is the idea of a nation state acting alone, not connected with others, not working with others, is no longer a viable proposition.”

In the current climate of social and economic disruption, leadership starts with an openness to embrace the future of work and ultimately, transformation of the corporate environment. Having worked with global institutions for the past decade to help them develop resilience for the emerging future, my observation is that those who succeed commit to the following agenda:

  • Cross-functional teams that drive creativity and innovation forward
  • Commitment to authenticity, empathy and diversity in the workplace
  • Openness to engage customers in the design of new products and services
  • Proficiency in social media and enterprise community management
  • Transparent dialogue between employees and influential stakeholders

As evidence of what this future holds, in a ‘people-powered’ ecosystem the institutional holy grails of corporate responsibility and reputation management become ‘more authentic’ and therefore, less reactive. At the same time, advocacy is no longer dependent on lacklustre campaigns and costly conventional media, as a newfound energy pervades culture, reflecting outwardly to enhance organisational presence, performance, and partnership.

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