One aspect of the Page Society’s white paper, The Authentic Enterprise, that has gotten little commentary, is the recommendation that chief communications officers (CCOs) assert leadership in defining and activating values. Ironically, this recommendation is the one that may represent the biggest departure from the way most people think about the role of the CCO.
For companies to succeed in the rapidly changing and challenging global business environment, having a set of values that serves as a guide to authenticity is essential. But many would not see this as a place for leadership from the CCO.
Certainly, most CCOs at major enterprises have responsibility for internal communications, and the good ones obviously view this as a strategic lever, designing internal communications programs that achieve strategic objectives, often including values and culture change. The departure, however, is the paper’s suggestion that CCOs provide leadership in helping companies define their “business model, brand, culture, policies and, most importantly, values.”
Okay, you may say that’s not so new, either. The best CCO’s since Arthur W. Page himself have been senior counselors involved in the most important strategic enterprise deliberations. Yes, but the white paper goes beyond even that by advocating not just a participative, but a leadership role in defining values.
Now, suggesting that CCOs assert leadership is not the same as staking out ownership. Clearly, other staff and line business leaders will play in the values deliberations and if there’s an ultimate owner, it’s doubtless the CEO. But the CCO is in the best position to lead a companywide effort to define and activate values.
Why? Because the CCO sees the need to help the enterprise be consistently authentic from top to bottom, and with increasingly diverse and diffuse organizations, the only way to do that is with consistent behaviors. If you can’t control all the actions and messages, you must influence the entire organization to think, act and speak consistently, guided by a shared set of beliefs. Also, the CCO has the capabilities to lead in defining and activating values because it requires the kind of participative dialogue that is one of our core competencies.
When I was at Aetna, our new leadership team faced the need to implement a radical turnaround in a company that had lost its sense of who it was. We saw the need to agree on a binding pervasive philosophy that encompassed mission, values, goals and operating principles. I was asked to lead the business-wide council that created what the company now calls The Aetna Way. Initially, I was surprised by this assignment, but as I felt my way through it, I began to understand why the CEO thought the head of communications should take on this role.
Creating The Aetna Way was simultaneously a top-down and bottom-up exercise that drew on the company’s traditional beliefs, but updated them to reflect new realities. This required extensive dialogue — both to accomplish the best result and to achieve a sense of participation and buy-in across the enterprise. In a very fundamental sense, this was a communications exercise, and my familiarity with the disciplines of internal communications, branding, positioning and strategy prepared me well for the task.
It was critically important that the council I chaired had representatives from all staff areas and business lines and from several levels of management. We sought input from every corner of the company. This ensured that the effort was viewed across the enterprise as valid. For CCOs who understand the needs and the language of the business, leadership in defining values can be quite a natural role.
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