Stakeholder Alignment

Communication for a CEO is about three things: right messages, right cadence, right stakeholders:

1. Right messages: Gone are the days when an executive committee could invest months on strategy and then deliver it from on high to the organization. Because good strategy is less about "where to play" than "how to win," the best CEOs know they have to engage the organization in delivery. They invest a huge amount of time in co-creating key parts of the strategy with the talent that matters—the folks who will deliver that strategy to customers. The same goes for organization changes or cost reduction. Great CEOs will devote significant time toward getting their message right for each audience. In particular, they will ensure that decisions are translated into the "So what?" of the front line: How does this initiative affect frontline routines and behaviors?

2. Right cadence: There is a well-known marketing maxim: "Everything communicates." If you want to protect and nurture your brand, know that everything every employee does either helps or hurts that brand. In the context of the CEO Agenda, it means that everything the CEO does ultimately signals to the rest of the company the metabolic rate he or she desires. Cadence depends on the CEO's communication style—how often are we meeting, on what topics, to decide what? A CEO must not only be obsessed with what messages are delivered, but the cadence of messaging, the cadence of decisions.

3. Right stakeholders: The "who" of communications is also critical, of course. CEOs live and die by their ability to keep on their side key stakeholders—starting with their board. The CEO must set the board agenda, create a well-functioning board and, ultimately, figure out how to get along with the chairman. (Interestingly, this doesn't mean the chairman-CEO relationship needs to be a love fest—but it has to work somehow.) The best CEOs will also identify the broader list of communities that must be brought into the firm's decision making and set up the right communication program for each of them. This includes NGOs, local communities, trade unions, talent pools, governments—the list is highly specific to the firm, but the short list of additional stakeholders will be a key part of the CEO's messaging strategy. As environmental sustainability rises on the CEO Agenda, CEOs will find they are increasingly accountable for what they do in all the communities in which they operate, even if they don't directly own the assets. The world of stakeholders is getting bigger, not smaller.