How C-suite thought leaders can ensure post-coronavirus success
Good communications are vital to help C-suite leaders steer their businesses through COVID-19 turbulence but finding the best path will depend on careful, multi-faceted navigation. Alongside a robust internal crisis strategy, risk management, clear employee conversations and stakeholder updates, leaders must take charge of how they are seen by the outside world.
Personal branding matters. What senior-level executives say impacts their own reputation and the company they represent, which makes it a key priority at all times and especially crucial now. Most importantly, leaders must not go silent: staying ahead through the pandemic and into the new reality will mean keeping a high profile, while striking the right tone.
When the COVID-19 cloud lifts, company fortunes will be decided by the actions they have taken. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer data reveals over two-thirds (65%) of its public sample will judge their future buying decisions on how companies handled the crisis, and 37% have already switched brands.
Used effectively, the image leaders project can reflect well on their business and that means C-suite leaders striving to keep companies visible for the right reasons need to focus on building a positive profile from all angles.
With this in mind, three thought leadership principles should be kept front of mind:
Prioritise service, not selling
Even amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still key for leaders to share stories that maintain market confidence and the firm foundations for future success; but they must craft messages with care. Efforts seen as aiming to ‘sell’ products or services are problematic in a crisis because what matters to customers is a solution that will deliver a positive outcome. Leaders must be sensitive to the situation and ensure the messages they convey are positioned to highlight the wider benefits of their success.
Cisco technology provides a prime example of this approach in action. With its tech and video conferencing services keeping people and governments connected, the organisation has chosen to cast itself firmly in a supporting role: in a message posted on the company website, Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins stated; “Cisco must, and will, do even more to help others respond to this global pandemic.”
Support the business community
For leaders and companies, communication focus has increasingly inched towards the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; aiming to build positive awareness by tapping into higher aspirations and purpose. The arrival of coronavirus, however, has turned the hierarchy on its head. Now, what matters to both people and businesses is survival, and the C-suite executives gaining recognition as leading forces are those demonstrating their commitment to providing vital support that enables other companies to keep thriving. As renowned author and business thinker, Daniel Pink put it: “one of the most important things that you see in leaders who are in crisis is that they convey that we are all in this together.”
The last few weeks have seen a diverse array of leadership teams move to help the wider business community. Google leaders have not only established a fund for employees left unable to work by COVID-19 disruption, but also opted to make the organisation’s Hangouts Meet video conferencing service free for all G-suite customers until July 2020, while Microsoft is delivering emergency remote operations.
HP has also launched several initiatives to assist with current challenges — including donations of finances and equipment — with President and CEO, Enrique Lores, issuing a call to arms for global leaders. In an article addressed to every business and leader, Lores struck an inspirational tone when urging immediate action: “companies and business leaders across industries need to step forward and answer a simple question: what role can my company play in overcoming today’s obstacles and creating tomorrow’s opportunities?”
Share knowledge to boost influence
As well as taking the lead on resolving challenges and driving social responsibility, thought leadership is also about passing on expertise and resources. Through educational initiatives, senior executives can showcase their leadership skills and the solutions their businesses provide, while helping others to thrive and cementing their standing as a go-to authority during the pandemic, and beyond.
James Taylor, founder of professional speaker company Speakers U, is one of many company leaders now holding webinars giving advice on how to thrive amid lockdown and the absence of real-world events. Meanwhile Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen announced that additional fees for cloud-based technology will be waived and PDF services made available for free until the end of May to ease the burden on organisations and enable digital collaboration. Similarly, LinkedIn leaders have opened up multiple complimentary online courses to support those working and studying from home.
Last but not least, the well-established concept of highlighting benefits over features remains key to driving positive perception and business. While this is a proven concept for communicating effectively, many companies continue to ignore it.
For leaders, this makes it essential to keep those perceptions positive. Company executives that centre their attention on creating a powerful personal brand can play a pivotal role in securing business profitability. By sustaining a strong yet suitable profile and taking the helm on thought leadership, they can make a lasting impression that sets their business up for future success.
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