Arthur W. Page Society

For Most CEOs, the Bottom Line Remains the Bottom Line

A just released IBM survey of some 1,500 chief executive officers revealed that 80 percent see the world becoming even more complex in the years to come. Yet, 51 percent admit they don’t have all the answers to confront the uncertainty.

To cope with the double bogey of complexity and uncertainty, 60 percent of CEOs surveyed cited creativity as the single most important leadership quality needed over the next five years. Integrity finished second at 52 percent.

CEOs defined creativity as speed, operational dexterity and experimentation. Winning organizations, they said, are nimble, responsive and resourceful while being creative in improving customer relationships. IBM says CEOs who respond with creative solutions are the ones who will turn such creativity into financial advantage.

The findings confirm for me what I’ve suspected all along. Despite ethical and moral lapses at BP, Toyota, Johnson & Johnson and countless other global organizations, the bottom line remains the bottom line. We can wax poetic about honesty and integrity, but CEOs of publicly-traded corporations remain driven by the immediate and insatiable needs of Wall Street, the board of directors and shareholders. Sure, they’re delighted if they can whet those appetites in an honest and transparent manner. But, there have simply been too many recent examples of badly-behaving CEOs to make me think we’ve fundamentally moved the ‘integrity needle.’

Trust me, I’m not suggesting for one minute we stop advocating for truth and transparency. It’s simply not enough to earn a seat at most C-suite tables. Instead, I believe the Page Society must advocate a wider agenda that resonates with the business goals of the chief executive officer. Let me cite just one way in which we can move up the food chain and be seen as part of a chief executive’s creative solution set: We all know the profound impact social media has had on our world. Among other things, it has made the customer more powerful than ever before. But, however powerful it is, social media is still just one touch point between an organization and its constituents. There are many, many more.

Let me ask a question of the chief communications officers reading this blog: Have you personally experienced each and every one of your organization’s touch points(i.e. have you put yourself in the shoes of a prospective customer or employee and navigated your organization’s web site? Have you ever dialed your call centers? What about visiting retail sites to hear how your brand is sold vis-à-vis the competition’s? What about your reception areas? Have you ever experienced what a visitor experiences?). We recently surveyed 75 chief marketing officers and found that two-thirds had never personally experienced their brand from a constituent’s standpoint.

The smart chief communications officer recognizes that customer service is the new public relations. But, that doesn’t mean just monitoring sentiment in the blogosphere or Tweeting pithy comments. It means (a) learning to experience the company as a customer; (b) institutionalizing it in the way the corporation thinks across departments; and (c) sharing those insights (and perhaps the experience itself) with the rest of the C-Suite.

Show me a chief communications officer who regularly takes off her corporate hat and experiences her organization, product or service, from the point of view of end users, and I’ll show you someone who’s integral to any corner office discussion about strategy, customer relationships, complexity, uncertainty and creativity. That’s the real bottom line.

Steve Cody
Managing Partner and Co-Founder
Peppercom, Inc.

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