Attitude and trust in communication. Five strategic risks and opportunities for brands

Imagine: Cinemaxx boycotted all the films of the Weinstein Company since the beginning of the #metoo debate.

Shell petrol stations inform at the pump that Germany has used up its ecological footprint. They grant discounts for carpooling and support co-operation with carsharing services.

Invented scenarios.

Actually done: Gerken takes off his rental lifts from the Hambacher Forst. Edeka symbolically clears the shelves for all goods purchased from “foreign countries”. Immobilienscout24 will be with #bautwasgesuchtwird at the residential summit (“Wohngipfel”) in Berlin.

For Meike Leopold of Start Talking an occasion of many, to initiate the blog parade on the topic of attitude in communication: fake or true trend? An important topic that I like to pick up. For all the enthusiasm for the opportunities, it is worth taking a look at possible risks.

Trust me

Brands have to do more today than constant product quality. They need values. Saturated markets and almost interchangeable product features fuel the search for differentiating characteristics. An overflowing flood of information and altered preferences of Gen Y do the rest. After charging with emotion now meaning – based on values that allow attitude.

Marc O. Eckert, Bulthaup Managing Director said in an interview in 2014 with the magazine Hohe Luft:

“Products are always the result of a conviction, an attitude. And this attitude always springs from values. In that sense, it’s the values that make the company first.”(1)

In 2015, the Brands ahead study analyzed the sustainability of brands and defined six main drivers. Three years later, recommendation Number Six seems to be “Attitude Vs. Function. Value proposition supplements performance promises” arrived fully in everyday marketing.

Just save the world?

In the context of brand management, attitude is a demanding strategic task – in any case unsuitable for patent recipes for the purpose of favorable PR or trend-conscious brand strengthening. Incidentally, this does not only apply to explicitly political attitudes, but also environmental, climate or socio-political positioning can be promising at first glance, but tricky on the second.

Attitude requires systemic quality

Strategically speaking, Meaningful Natives like Greenpeace or Basic are easier to do than Meaninful Immigrants. Nevertheless, the retrograde charging with attitude is in principle possible. Only: Anyone who wants to recharge their brand – as it were uncoupled from organization and corporate culture – socially, environmentally or otherwise politically risks much. Dangers do not arise only at the level of the attitude-pointing product mark itself.

1. Entrepreneurial credibility

Diversity sounds good. However, those who swing the colorful Diversity flag, but prevents Equal Pay in their own company, has little convincing, not only among well-educated female junior staff. Sexual discrimination is considered backward. In more than 70 countries around the world, however, conflicts with national legislation lurk as long as the company promotes this as a cultural advantage. Organizational stringency is anything but trivial and can affect both employer branding and international business relationships. Showing attitude in climate protection seems relatively easy, but it is by no means. Especially not for energy-intensive industries. We still expect stringency. If the product’s production, packaging and logistics are climate-conscious, then why not set an example for the board’s electric fleet, for public transport instead of gas vouchers or fair instead of non-fair trade coffee?

 

2. Public denunciation

Activists and influencers watch in their watch blogs very closely the actual status of the well-worded commitment. Logically, that they praise or complain about their findings via Twitter, Facebook, etc. In 2017, Influencemap.org analyzed the discrepancy between announced goals and contrarian lobbying among 250 large companies. Apple, Unilever and IKEA were considered to be exemplary in political support for the Paris climate protection goals, but 35 of the 50 most influential large companies actively lobbied against the climate targets, according to the observers “companies in the fossil fuel value chain (ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, Chevron), energy intensive companies (BASF, ArcelorMittal, Bayer, Dow Chemical and Solvay) and electric utilities with large amounts of coal-producing capacity (Southern Company, Duke Energy and American Electric Power) and four powerful automotive manufacturers (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, BMW and Daimler ). ”

 

3. Portfolio disagreement

Mono brand manufacturers have less difficulties with consistent attitude. In companies with a wide range of products, and in addition from different sectors, attitude in systemic consequence can be unpleasant. It could be that brands (or divisions) no longer fit the portfolio, because they are no longer compliant.

 

4. Revenue losses

Showing attitude can influence the economic outcome. Negative, for example, if one consciously renounces a margin, because the principle of attitude could suffer. Example: fair pricing. A study shows that women are not only affected by hygiene articles: they also pay more for laptop bags, hairdresser visits or textile cleaning. In 2015/16, the Hamburg consumer center analyzed that disposable razors for women are around 7% more expensive than comparable products for men. All a question of quantity? The gender pricing gap is further explosive due to questionable taxation. Everyday hygiene items such as tampons are subject to a luxury tax in some countries. Fair? For the politicians and activists in Germany and Austria not – they started petitions. It was reported in all media coverage, also in the digital magazine Bento or in the BR transmitter Puls – media addressed to young target groups. In the US, the online drugstore retailer Boxed occupies the subject with the #RethinkPink Movement. Clear statement of the male CEO Chieh Huang: “We take a stand here.” Also Impulse blogger Franziska Pörschmannreminds that attitude can cost a little. Thus, the English company LONSDALE had to accept up to 75% sales losses when it was active in 2004 against right-wing extremism.

 

5. Implementation difficulties

The example compliance teaches how hard it can be to show an attitude. And that, although in this case it is even lawful. The entrepreneurial reality is complex. Thus, the most beautiful rules communicated to case studies can brutally fail in reality: be it that the culture of the company permits gray areas or structurally promotes the diffusion of responsibility, or that employees simply refuse for personal reasons. Context plays a not insignificant role here.(2) The fact that employees behave in compliance with the law can at least be lamented by the company. Attitude-conforming behavior, however, can at best desire and promote it. When management shows its attitude, it does not automatically create the right practice. Want to say: A CEO statement against racism does not automatically lead to better integration of foreign skilled workers in the company, but they are the first steps that need to be followed by others. Attitude also needs to be understood, practiced, lived and, ideally, endorsed. Employees with a similar understanding of values facilitate implementation. But attitude also touches personal freedom.

 

Attitude – good for watching, good for business?

Does attitude provide more than a temporary image boost? Anyone who knows how strongly image values affect purchasing decisions evaluates that, more than ‘not at all low. Where risks lurk, there are known opportunities. These are:

1. Business credibility

2. Public recognition

3. Portfolio credibility

4. Profit increase

5. Identification

Scientific evidence that determine the economic benefit of keeping clean, pending. Concrete examples already exist. Example Ariel: With the question “Is laundry only a woman’s job?” And the associated action #sharetheload the brand Ariel even achieved an increase in sales by 60%. Men all over the world posted photos of themselves doing laundry as a sign of their support in sharing the burden.

The proverbial question is: what weighs harder? The economic or the ideal profit? With well-made communication with attitude both equally.

(1) Dominic Veken: Der Sinn des Unternehmens. Wofür arbeiten wir eigentlich? Hamburg 2015, S.29

(2) Tanja Rabl: Do contextual factors matter? An investigation of ethical judgement of corruption acts. In: Zeitschrift für Betriebswirtschaft (ZfB). Special Issue 6/2012, hrsg. von Thomas Wrona und Hans-Ulrich Küpper, S. 5-32

Compliance texts: tough content, soft tone

Compliance management systems have become increasingly important for many companies: Although not compulsory under German law, they have been recommended by the German Corporate Governance Codex as a voluntary way to improve corporate practices (cf. 4.1.3 ff).

Stock corporations are legally required to prevent damages and control risks, and – as outlined in Haufe Personalmagazin, 12/2014 – they can document their compliance with this law by establishing proper compliance management systems.

As a result, many large companies in particular have developed codes of conduct and/or business conduct guidelines. Voluntary commitments of this kind offer many advantages even for SMEs: The promote transparency towards employees, business partners, public authorities and investors. The facilitate ethically and legally correct behaviour. And, last but not least, they represent another step towards an integrated employer branding.

The knack of presenting rules and regulations:

Business Conduct Guidelines – simple, correct, and fully branded

Since codes of conduct usually involve complex regulations, their initial language is often dry and bureaucratic to the point of sounding abrasive. Codices often also embody an accumulation of different regulations from several corporate units – and, as a result, they may lack an integrated style and tonality. This is hardly surprising since different units are responsible for the individual sections of the code, and various departments – such as HR, IT, Health and Safety, and Environmental protection – may have played a part in producing them. Of course, it is vital that the contributions of these subject matter experts inform and serve as the basis for the ultimate Code of Conduct. However, it is equally vital to transform these separate contributions into a unified final document.

The challenge then is to design such regulatory codes in a way that fulfils the standards and requirements of Corporate and Employer Brand Management. How this is possible? Texts abundant with prescriptions and passive wordings tend not only to sound laboursome but also arbitrary. It won’t be enough to just brush up the occasional wording and then apply the pre-given Corporate Design.

The 5-step path to convincing Business Conduct Guidelines (Compliance texts)

  1. Start out with your company’s goals and values: Use these as the vantage point to lay out the benefits which a code of conduct offers. This is possible, for instance, by including a preamble.
  2. Include your top management: A foreword or letter by the CEO or board of directors expressing their commitment to the code of conduct will convince employees that compliance is not just a rule on paper but a practise embraced from the top down.
  3. Pay attention to the structure of your document: All main topics should be presented clearly (e.g. scope, responsibilities, interaction, interaction with third parties, conflicts of interest, data protection etc.). Equally, readers should be able to locate secondary issues easily.
  4. Highlight your main points: The most important messages can be distinguished from the main text by separate captions, abstracts or other markers. Readers should be able to spot them immediately without being prompted to ignore the rest of the text,
  5. Stay true to you colours: Maintain the style of corporate language and corporate design.

 

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/category/compliance/

Compliance-Texte: Strikt in der Sache, gewinnend im Ton

 

In what do we trust? The Fujitsu Social Media Night 2019

Why does a company like Fujitsu organize a Social Media Night on Trust in the Age of Fake News? Why is it dedicating an entire congress to Human Centric Innovation – Driving a Trusted Future? Because trust is the basis of interaction. No business without trust. Sounds simple, but Virtualization and Artificial Intelligence (AI) put confidence in more than a rip.

Two keynotes gave the topic its own twist: Kate Russell, a British journalist and tech blogger (BBC, SKY) went in search of the origins of false news, different categories. She pleaded for more education, better technology, stronger monitoring and more critical thinking. She recommended that the term fake news not be used, as it would be ennobled by continuous repetition as something factual. Alternative Facts is indeed the claim. A public discourse space needs trust, transparency, protection, robust freedoms, break-up of echo chambers – and openness to change in the media as well as in society. Kate Russell presented an initiative to expose Fake News earlier.

The Norwegian philosopher Anders Indset (“quantum economy”, “wild knowledge”) questioned whether there is this publicly controllable space, that is still giving. He looked beyond the currently rather irrelevant use of social media and asked the legitimate question of what a truly mature digitized society should look like. Visually pleasurable, in the scenario beyond insta-glossiness, snackable Twittercontent and finger food threw into the room: spiritual man meets angry young men in their 30s who hated the system. The old, Adam Smith-oriented concept of economy and capitalism is not in the new world again. How can one be further developed with the words of the Dalai Lama? This be the task, all for a think up output in the remainder. He recommended everyone to keep a daily lesson in the calendar. Indset pleaded for recollecting what is essential for people with a European value horizon. Freedom, dignity, autonomy, humanity, experience for example. To take his decisions in his own hands, to allow experiences of kindness and humanity on a small scale. For this purpose, it is necessary to get out of the basic assumptions of the system to perform a system change.

In the ensuing discussion, Joseph Reger, Chief Technology Officer Europe (Fujitsu), and Paul van der Lingen, Program Manager (NetApp), were expanded. Although the participants argued at various levels of discussion, it was not. The topic itself has numerous dimensions, not everything fits one and the same answer. In addition: It is an open heart surgery. The heart of democracy is beating – and at the same time it should be beyond it

With three simple questions and answers the whole dilemma can be outlined.

Who do we trust most?

Ourselves.

Who after?

Everything that corresponds to our values.

Which form gives confidence expression?

The ones that both believe the most: kiss, handshake, contract, blockchain, sensors, quanta ….

That we trust ourselves – and our free judgment – could be a mere guess. How and why it works can be read philosophically (Kant, Freud, Nietzsche, Lacan, etc.) and neuroscientifically: # Destruction # Subject.

That we trust others who share our values ​​has not only confirmed neuroscience. Values ​​in which we recognize ourselves lead to the release of binding hormones. They therefore function as a means of reducing stress by reducing complexity. Only: the danger of all closed (value) systems – self-referentiality, hierarchy formation, abuse of power, etc. – threatens just here. The Filterbubble amplifies the problem, however, massive.

At the same time it turns out that values ​​are neither historically nor absolutely a consistent good. Especially when we think about their extension or change by AI, values ​​as we know them belong to disposable factors.

Our solution strategies to fake news involve fundamental decisions that touch on the question “How do we want to live and prosper in the future?”. In a nutshell, we have three options to choose from:

More information, as it were the communication homoeopathic solution, fight like with like

More experiment, as it were the game-theoretical-system-disrupting solution, because only beyond the system can new ways emerge

More conviction / settlement (religion, ideology, ideation, utopia), as it were the ideological-decisionist solution, because only what is true can provide binding orientation and support.

Which model we seek for publicity and privacy, which role autonomy and the freedom of humans play in the age of artificial intelligence, have deeper consequences than some would like to admit. The question under which presuppositions (ie subsidence) consciousness is possible has considerable influence: on truth, ethics, educational concepts, public interest, public opinion, politics and social decision-making. Even if the goal is to be a noble, a world without war, hunger, disease, old age, death, that man, as we know him today, will play the same role in it, may be doubted.

How to whet the appetite: Push notifications – the shortest conversation with your customer

 „Well done! You are now registered. “
„Congratulations! This was your personal best!“
“Have you been interrupted while shopping?”
“Remember: Your competitors keep tabs on new developments.”

Simple messages. Yet less targeted, they might sound like this:

„You have been registered.”
„Your training time was 14:07 minutes.“
„Do you want to resume your previous session?“
„You can now download the Whitepaper.“

There are many models and concepts on how to interact with customers. What they all need, however, is good writing. And the quality of the copy should be even better, when texts are short and user contacts frequent. Push notifications are required for virtually all apps and registration processes – and as such they are an integral part of all customer communications. Or at least, they should be.

The corporate language – including attitude, vocabulary, and tonality – shapes a corporate brand just as much as any visual design does. Equally, brand language and verbal tonality are vital brand elements also n marketing products and services.

Apps often address younger target groups, and the frequently originate from Start-ups themselves. Is it surprising then that the sound we hear is more direct, more emotional, even friendlier?

 

Nudging

Life-style, nutritional, and fitness apps can serve to have a closer look at emerging communicative attitudes in corporate communications. As we all know, good intentions often beat the personal stamina when it comes to exercising, dieting etc. etc. In order to sell their products or services, app designers are under pressure to address users in a way that keeps them going. Indoctrinations or guilt trips rarely work to motivate a user to keep exercising or losing weight. Push notifications are needed that keep people’s spirits going:

“Hey, this was really good!”
“Congratulations, you have exercised 3 times!”
“Had a short break? Continue where you left off!”

These ways of addressing target groups can also inform other forms and goals of communications, for example:

  1. Onboarding – after buying or starting a membership
  2. Re-engagement – to re-vitalise inactive users
  3. Warning – when notifying users on impending delays or limitations in order to avoid annoyance

“Congratulations! You have finished the article! Can I help you in any other way?”

 

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

Push Nachrichten – Kundenansprache im Kleinstformat

 

 

 

Your Company Brochure – No “one fits all” production!

“The company brochure […] answers questions about a corporation’s identity, history and competence. It presents the target groups for the company’s products or services and highlights their benefits for clients and customers.“ (Kirsten Koenen)

Kirsten Koenen has nailed it. There is no better way of describing what your company brochure is all about. Make sure that all your brochure’s various elements – structure, paper, visuals, text, pageflow – send the same strong message to your reader as they depict your company in front of him. As you integrate the various elements, they will strengthen each other’s impact, leaving one total impression in the end that will stay with your reader. If forward thinking is part of your core identity, make sure it is expressed convincingly – starting with your brochure’s conceptualization and its language down to the way the paper feels.

There simply is no ONE concept when it comes to company brochures even if there are similar patterns. A brochure’s content, for example, is often set whereas the layout mostly varies. Most brochures include these text elements:

“Company Profile” (Who?)

“History” (Where from?)

“Mission / Goals” (Where to?)

“Products / Services” (What?)

“Target group / Benefits” (For whom?)

The uniformity of many company brochures is mostly due to these standard elements. The knack is to create an impression which is emotionally appealing, authentic and convincing.

To do so, you need to deliver more than just facts: Presenting your company’s values and a context of emotions is crucial. Human decision-making rarely hinges on products and companies. Instead, it follows feelings and the solutions you offer. Make your reader see and sense your corporate identity. Make it tangible through a strong emotional message. (Kirsten Koenen)

How do you create this emotional charge for your particular brand? There is little that beats the power of images. They create an immediate impact and communicate the essential characteristics of your company – much like a logo does. It pays off to invest in a good photographer: You can intensify your messages by using strong images.

A word of warning, though: Avoid stock images wherever you can. They tend to visualize business themes in the form of fake scenes – we have all seen the trusty handshake to signal a business deal, the casual team meeting, or the service-driven client talk. Such images are rarely produced for just one particular company. As a result, they make your company interchangeable rather than highlight its uniqueness.

The same principle applies to the text you choose for your company brochure. Naturally, all companies want to tell their clients that they are “just right” for them. But the more the value propositions resemble each other, the less real promise they deliver: Phrases like “tailor-made”, “individual”, “state-of-the-art”, “best”, “service offer” or “product solutions” are, in a way, nothing more than stock material.  They fit many and much, but they don’t really stick, least of all in your customers’ memory.

There may be times where resource or other constraints only allow “off-the-rack” options. As with any decision, this is a matter of prudence.

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

 

Die Imagebroschüre – Bitte keine Fertigware

 

Behind the brand or next to it? On positioning the CEO

CEOs don’t have it easy today. Whereas the MDs of the old school genuinely ‘pre-sided’ their brand or company, CEOs these days frequently step back behind it. As the Germany weekly DIE ZEIT found: „Company directors are being replaced by company brands”.

So what? Doesn’t that even make sense? In many ways, CEOs today are a company’s “top supporter” rather than “top figure-head”, and the relationship between management and company has been transformed into one of identification rather than representation. It is widely agreed that a CEO should not just be a spokesperson for a company’s key messages; he or she should actually embody the company’s values and personify the organisation. A number of experts even go as far as demanding that the CEO’s personality and the company’s brand should come together in some form of symbiosis in which person and brand provide mutual benefit.

Whatever of these CEO models you prefer – spokesperson, personifyer or integrated benefactor – they all have in common that the CEO is seen as servant rather than regent of the company and brand.

It is time then to challenge the total reciprocity between CEO and brand, which was strongly embodied, for instance, by former Apple-leader Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was Apple, and Apple was Steve Jobs. It remains to be seen to what extent his successor Tim Cook will succeed in representing Apple’s brand without emulating Steve Jobs in one way or another. So far, Cook seems to be remarkably successful in beating his own path – an indication maybe that the match between brand and CEO does not need to be a total one after all.

 

Constructing the authentic

‘Authenticity’ usually involves a process of radical selection – at least when it is applied as a marketing concept. As Cindy Crawford once said:  ”Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford early in the morning“.  For obvious reasons, she has also kept any such early morning pictures to herself as they would undermine the “Cindy Crawford” brand.  In a similar vein, the authenticity of Steve Jobs will have been a result of a particular positioning process which Jobs underwent as Apple’s CEO .

Depending on whether a CEO sees himself as a spokesperson, personifyer, benefactor or even servant of his company, his appearances and communication tend to be carefully staged in accordance with the role he prefers. As CEOs step behind their brands, they also strive to avoid anything that could shift the spotlight onto themselves and away from the brand. That sounds logical, doesn’t it? But is it also clever?

The CEO and the brand environment

According to a Burson-Marsteller study on CEO positioning, opinion leaders firmly believe that a CEO shape the public image of his company to more than 50 per cent:

Did you know that opinion leaders attribute more than 50% of a company’s image to the way they perceive the CEO? This is confirmed by numerous global – and also Swiss – CEO surveys.

There is certainly widespread agreement that a CEO’s reputation impacts directly on the stock value of his or her company. However, analysts and other stakeholders expect a CEO to create and maintain value. He is required to understand a brand, but not meant to disappear into its shadow. It is worth considering also that, at times, a brand identity offers very limited scope. A CEO is expected to lead a company and its brand, not vice versa.

As the current example of a large mail-order company shows, a CEO’s total ‘fusion’ with his brand carries an inherent risk: A brand as such does not speak on management matters like, for instance, criteria and conditions of employment. A brand value may be described in terms such as “fast, flexible, cost-efficient, simple, or service-oriented”. However, it is still down to a particular management to ensure that these values are not produced at the expense of others.

In order words: Management and the CEO require a meta-perspective which perceives a brand and its requirements in context, questions the surrounding conditions and shapes the brand based on the analysis of these factors. In doing so, a CEO does and must not converge with his brand. Instead, he is asked to support it. He poses questions, and by questioning, he leads. And in doing so, he leaves the shadow of his brand.

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

 

Im Markenhintergrund? Zum richtigen Standort des CEO

Pragmatism. Not pathos. The latest on CEO communication.

A CEO’s core competencies include communicating with various stakeholder groups. As a company’s most prominent employee, his or her word carries special weight.

Typically seen as one, CEO and company are regularly described in phrases conveying an almost symbiotic relationship: “The CEO embodies the company (or its strategy), he personifies the organisation, he is the face of the corporation, he is the symbolic figure-head etc. etc.”  The CEO’s reputation is seen as inseparable from that of the company, the image of one is regarded as directly impacting upon the other.

Given the trend towards an ever more personalised media coverage, it makes sense indeed to develop the CEO’s communication as a strategic element of the total company brand: His messages and dialogues should be in harmony with those at corporate level. The CEO’s communication should be branded, and this should be achieved in conjunction with the company brand.

As a recent study shows, there may not be an absolute match between the reputation of the CEO and his company, and a CEO’s personal misconduct does not necessarily translate into his company’s instant economic decline. However, the correlation between the CEO’s and the company’s reputation is nonetheless well established.

The increasingly complex, changing, and globalized business environments also impact on the positioning of both company and CEO. Companies – especially those exposed to highly dynamic product cycles – are required to be ever more connected, adaptive, innovative and flexible in providing solutions. In view of these challenges, agile and learning organisations are more likely to succeed, provided they keep up at all times: What was correct yesterday, may be less relevant or wrong tomorrow, what was of no interest for customers a week ago may be the rave in just a few days’ time.

The same kind of openness and learning is also required by CEOs who want to successfully steer a company into the future. He or she will have to provide the framework and organisational structures that facilitate transformation and change, and he will have to adapt his own communication accordingly.

Speaking in an interview with the German weekly DIE ZEIT, Frank Zappel, Managing Director of the Deutsche Post, said: “I don’t even want to be in the spotlight at all times. My job is that of a servant.” Describing his role, he added: “I do not see myself as the chief manager who seizes everything and decides everything himself. Instead, my job is to enable the organisation and its managers to take the right decisions. Coaching, instructing, providing the right conditions – that is my role. …”  The title “Chief Executive Officer” was actually no longer appropriate, Zappel claimed. Rather, he should be seen as “Chief Enabling Officer”, he said. A chief, who ensures that others can do their job. A chief, who delegates to his team rather instead of deciding on his own.

Appel – and other CEOs like him – carry the title of CEO with “pragmatism” rather than “pathos”, the weekly reported.  This new type of CEO also refrained from displaying the insignia of power that once used to define CEOs.  The ancillary result of such pragmatism: According to the report, such CEOs stand out less than their predecessors. Some even seem to disappear behind the company brand.

These new trends in management and the changing business environments need to be taken into account if the CEO is to remain effective as a key part of a company’s total brand.  And the elements of CEO communication – ranging from content via tonality and attitude down to formats – will have to be adapted accordingly.

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

 

Pragmatismus, statt Pathos – Neues vom CEO

We are the company – the interconnected CEO

The company is me. This statement – in the vein of Sun King Louis XIV – claims absolute leadership. Whether it was ever actually realized, of course, remains another matter.

But whether it was or not, such leadership models are certainly outdated today. “Sole rule has become a hindrance,” Boris Grundl maintains in a recent book on the ‘man of action’ management model. The reason? The industrial age which was based on the notion of plannable and predictable growth has been superseded by the complexities of globalisation, he argues. The new order of business economics requires new capabilities of both managers and employees: In particular, flexibility and the ability quickly to respond to market developments are key criteria for success today.

So far, so good. However, agility and flexibility are in no way qualities which some people happen to have and others not.  To assume so would mean to ignore the conditions which make successful, adaptive behaviour possible in the first place.

 

Placing trust in self-management

What enables human beings as well as organisations to adapt to changing complex scenarios in an agile fashion? The answer to this question is often described in a series of opposites: Network instead of hierarchy, openness instead of instruction, development instead of pre-design, flexibility instead of persistence, agility instead of reactance … The wordings indicate nothing less than an organisational transformation. Companies have to develop a new culture of management and cooperation to facilitate innovation, collaboration and flexibility. They have to tackle their own internal structures and processes to remain successful in an age of increased unpredictability and uncertainty. Promoting self-organisation is key: The knack is to allow employees not only to be co-workers but co-thinkers who take charge and contribute to shaping the company – responsibly, appropriately and effectively.

 

Walk the walk

A transformation of this kind also changes the role of the CEO. Ideally, he or she is the one to kick off or trigger changes within the organisation. The CEO has to embody the change he wants to see happen within the company. Above all, the CEO should not merely outline strategies for development to succeed in an ever-changing complex world. He also has to adapt the organisational framework of his company to allow change to happen in the first place. He has to convince and reason, show why change is needed and act on his beliefs, too. He has to walk the walk. And he has to keep up the dialogue with the people that make up the company.

 

From many to many

Let’s have a look at strategy design. According to the Sun King model of management (“I am the first and the ultimate…”) the lone ruler also claims to be the sole cause, facilitator, innovator and maker of success. The interconnected CEO acts differently: He or she is a team player even at strategy level. Rather than trying to assess his company’s ever more complex market scenarios unilaterally, he enters into an early dialogue with and actively involves the company’s top management, high potentials and employees. The interconnected CEO knows and appreciates that success has many fathers and mothers. And that it has to be won collectively again and again. Companies which rest on their laurels put their future performance at risk. They often have stopped asking important questions and listening to the many who can contribute to the right answers.

 

“It’s good that we talked”

 The ability to communicate well is a core competence for business leaders.  However, the interconnected CEO has an even more fundamental affinity to dialogue and exchange. Communication is ‘what he is about’ and in radiating this quality he comes across as authentic. As a result, he seeks dialogue across the company – whether face to face, or web-based – and he invites questions and is happy to give answers.

Of course, communication and the exchange of information – the key resource of today’s knowledge economy – is not an end to itself.  Yet it is the precondition for successful action: Communication implies that the better argument can win. That makes successful effective in a way that should not be ignored!

Surprisingly, many CEOs have yet to discover the power of Social Media. Yes, the global connectedness achieved by Social Media is a blessing and a curse at the same time: CEO statements can prompt waves of support as well as waves of disagreement. An ambiguous tweet can send share prices falling, alienate customers, and annoy employees. But: Good news can also spread like wild fire.

 

A CEO profile – or a CEO who stands out?

Given the power, e.g. of Social Media, interconnected CEOs are well advised to be aware of both the opportunities and the risks of communication – whether in relation to strategy design or the implementation of messages, issues and commitments, events and presentation forums, or formats like speeches, chats, videos and photos.  Positioning a CEO and setting his public stage is way more demanding than jotting a four-line caption for a stamp-sized photo in a company brochure.

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

 

Wir sind Konzern – Zur Rolle des vernetzten CEO

CEO and storytelling: Leading by content

Brand products and services often resemble each other. Unfortunately, CEOs do so, too. Many value propositions may sound good – we have all heard terms like “innovative, competent, high-value, transparent, cooperative, customer-friendly, and service-oriented” a thousand times – but they still remain abstract. Again, the same applies to CEOs. Even where CEOs are genuinely “competent” or “decisive”, such descriptions ultimately do not convey much as they are used anywhere and everywhere. And extended wordings – e.g. “X is a strong business personality”, “Y is a visionary manager” or “Z is a driver of success” – mostly do not do much better. They may serve to differentiate a manager from other CEOs and – justly or not – set him or her apart for specific traits, values or competencies. However, if such claims are not filled with tangible qualities, they will ring hollow and not help much to communicate a leader’s particular values and unique capabilities. Equally, a CEO’s strategic position has to be seen and felt to truly come across. How to achieve all this? The solution is to apply narrative branding techniques to communicating a CEO’s profile. This also means: CEO-communication is not about marketing a ‘product’, it is about managing relationships.

 

Marketing is no longer about monologues

Today, it requires an integrated dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders (B2B, Investors etc.). Sales processes and other brand decisions occur in the course of interactions between brands and their consumers. In other words: They involve a relationship and this relationship is constantly developed by means of stories, anecdotes and myths. It is storytelling which serves to maintain and permanently rekindle the relationship between consumer and brand. And storytelling does not just invoke the brand – this would quickly be repetitive and boring in the long run! Instead, it creates stories around it.

 

Coca Cola calls this concept ‘dynamic storytelling’: It integrates a multiple of consumer-product interactions within a “brand experience”, and it actively embraces the fact that the brand experience cannot be controlled as stories develop their own dynamic effects. The corporation intends to manage its shift from “Creative Excellence to Content Excellence“ by 2020. Intended ancillary effects include: increased customer loyalty towards products, stronger leads, better ideas and an effective Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

Tell me your story! Don’t sell me a brand!

This new branding paradigm also impacts upon the CEO communication. Eulogies which spout brand or product messages according to the classic sender-receiver-model are outdated. Or at least they should be; remnants of this old model are still around. However, as CEOs seek to position themselves successfully through appearance and communication, they are advised to pay heed to the new paradigm which is based on storytelling and managed relationships. As an invitation, “Tell me a/your story”, certainly has a stronger appeal than “Sell me a/your brand!”.

 

A CEO will certainly continue to ‘stand for’ certain topics and a particular agenda, but these aspects alone are no longer enough in defining his interaction with audiences. A CEO will need content and speaking occasions which invite and facilitate dialogue and exchange. Depending on his own self-perception and the stories on offer, he will decide on the role that story-telling can play as part of his management style. And depending on whether he sees himself as his company’s top columnist, chief editor, general publisher or curator of brand-related content, his story will radiate differently both inside and outside of the company. By prompting public dialogue through story-telling, he will increase his personal and the company’s reputation. And within the company, employees are effected and invited to extend the culture of storytelling.

This post was first published in German in my blog

http://www.elvira-steppacher.de/blog/de/

Leading by content – Storytelling des CEO