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  • Writer's pictureSteve Bowen

Communicating in an era of transformation

Forty percent of CEOs believe that their organizations will no longer be economically viable in their current configuration in ten years time, according to PwC’s recent Annual Global CEO Survey, 'Winning today’s race while running tomorrow’s'. The findings have significant implications for corporate communications practitioners.

PwC’s report is an insightful exploration of the challenges facing CEOs over the next 10 years. Across nine different categories, the report considers everything from business, climate and geopolitical risk to internal culture and individual leadership. The recommendations in the report all rely heavily on communication to be effective.

This the first of three posts reviewing the recommendations in the report and their impact on communication. This post focuses on the opening section - “The race for the future.”

1: What’s the half-life of your business?

Companies face multiple challenges to profitability, as mega trends including climate change, technological disruption and demographic shifts reshape the competitive landscape.

PwC’s recommendation is reinvention and reimagination - “looking beyond the current portfolio of businesses and products to determine what value an organisation will create, and for whom.”

From a communications perspective this requires sustained and focused outreach to stakeholders about how this reimagination will affect them.

Begin by crafting a reasoned and compelling vision for the future and a narrative explaining why it is essential to the business. Then engage employees and other internal stakeholders to secure buy-in by communicating the vision, outlining clearly what they can expect in the new normal and allowing opportunities for discussion and feedback. Only when your internal audiences are aligned should you take your narrative to the wider public.

2. When will your company’s climate clock run out?

It’s no surprise that PwC finds that the majority of CEO’s anticipate that climate change will affect their business, with a particular projected impact on cost profiles. The report also highlights the strategic challenge of addressing climate risk in the absence of consistent data regarding the impact of the actions taken most frequently.

The report recommends breaking the challenge down into manageable initiatives rather than focussing on the larger abstract risk.

For communicators this requires a careful balancing of the expectations of external parties, especially activist NGOs, with the company’s approach.

One way of addressing this is by focussing on tangible actions the organization is undertaking and developing a narrative around why these particular measures have been taken. The narrative should be validated by consistent and transparent reports on the impact of the chosen initiatives. This is in itself a challenge, given the proliferation of ESG standards. The focus should be on consistency - identify the metrics that matter to the organization and its stakeholders and report regularly around those.

3. Should you bring your key business risks forward?

Inflation, economic volatility and geopolitical are top of mind among CEOs, according the report. Over the next five years, threats like cyber risk and, again, climate change become more pressing. The disconnect between the twelve month and five year risk horizons creates the possibility that CEOs will be ‘blindsided’ in the near term.

The report recommends mobilizing the C-suite, especially around cyber risk, to communicate their commitment to cybersecurity and press for cross-sectoral alignment. This obviously has a strong communications element.

The other imperative that is not mentioned in the report is the need to ensure that crisis management plans are updated and stress tested to include emerging risk categories. Cyber attacks in particular are very fast-moving threats which have the added risk of hampering the organization’s ability to communicate at scale. Helping leadership identify and plan for these eventualities should be a key focus for corporate communicators.

The next post in this series will look at the second section of the report, ‘Today’s tensions’, which asks:

  • How much is your mood today affecting your view of tomorrow?

  • How do your resilience and your workforce strategies fit together?

  • As geopolitical risks rise, what new contingencies are you preparing for?

What do you think? What else should companies be thinking about with regard to their communication strategies?

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