- Authentic Enterprise
Yesterday, on day one of the Page Society Spring Seminar, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion about the “Authentic Enterprise” white paper. I’m proud of the paper, and of the team of wonderful colleagues who worked with me on it over the past year. However, to me, what’s most important at this point is not to keep talking about the paper, but to put into action what it recommends.
This was confirmed by the results of a survey of Page members, conducted by Eric Braun of the Corporate Executive Board, ahead of the seminar. The results revealed that members are hungry for practical, real-world examples of companies and leaders who are implementing ideas described in the “Authentic Enterprise” paper. And they give us some valuable insights into the current state of our profession. For instance:
— 62% agree that their company consistently coordinates messaging and outreach efforts across multiple stakeholder groups for any given issue. But only 35% say that they consistently measure the trust in the company among selected stakeholder groups.
— 67% say that their company’s values are seen as highly relevant to most employees, generating a sense of enthusiasm. But only 48% feel that those values lie at the core of employee behavior, regardless of competing pressures.
— Only 25% report having incorporated new media aggressively in the communications department’s portfolio.
— And interestingly, when asked which one stakeholder group respondents expect to command the greatest increase in time and resources from Communications in the next five years, the hands-down winner was “current employees,” at 24%. In contrast, two traditional targets of communications functions — the press and shareholders — were cited by only 14% and 4%, respectively.
Clearly, Page Society members are acutely aware that the world we have lived in is changing. A rich, nuanced set of perspectives on how those changes impact particular enterprises and individuals was on display in the panel I moderated at the seminar. On hand were Ben Edwards, publisher of Economist.com; Raymond Jordan, Corporate Vice President, Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at Johnson & Johnson; and David Samson, Chevron’s General Manager of Public Affairs.
(Full disclosure: I hired Ben away from The Economist three years ago, and got to know his remarkable mind and personal talents over an all-too-short 18 months, before his journalistic alma mater wooed him back with an offer he could not refuse — the chance to reinvent one of the world’s great publications for a new, digital age.)
I’d like to highlight one theme that ran across all three of their perspectives — namely, the fact that we are now living in a world where we are no longer in control.
Ray Jordan, discussing J&J’s legendary “Credo,” pointed out that the existence and vitality of such core values serves exactly the opposite end that many seek — that is, they enable diversity, rather than uniformity. He argued against trying to mold “one corporate voice,” urging us, instead, to expose many more representatives of a company to the public. “It helps to humanize the company.”
David Samson’s account of Chevron’s difficult but ultimately transformative experience in Nigeria — where the company was subject not just to marketplace competition, but to civil unrest and deadly violence — was a powerful emblem of the loss of control facing corporations (and individuals) as they venture out into a complex global economy.
And Ben Edwards described the shift in a publication’s relationship with its audience that is being brought about by the onset of new media. “It has been absolutely fascinating to see people being exposed to different opinions and different perspectives,” he said. For example, in online discussions about Tibet, the opinions of readers were clearly being shaped by the views and expressions not just of the magazine or its “experts,” but of other readers.
It was a fascinating dialogue, and it comes at a fascinating moment.
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