I am often asked to develop executive positioning programs — building personal thought leadership strategies for senior leaders within small and blue-chip businesses, government departments, not-for-profit organizations and exchange listed companies. In each case it normally involves considerable up front planning, and a detailed calendar of activities to reach a desired personal brand outcome.
Executive positioning, focuses not on placing the individual in a ‘Hollywood- style’ media spotlight wherever possible, but instead follows an approach that is planned and understated ‘personal PR’ to engage usually with external stakeholders. It involves selecting appropriate engagement opportunities in order to build a personal brand for the individual, and follow a regimented calendar of activities to deliver a consistent narrative throughout.
Earlier this year I was asked to recommend an executive positioning approach for a CEO who was new to an organization, and in developing the approach I was reminded that while we normally are asked to focus on external audiences for executive positioning, the significance of internal stakeholders cannot be underestimated — in particular for a new CEO who faces uncertainty among employees. Here are a few thoughts when considering internal stakeholders.
The 1st 100 days
For a new CEO, the first 100 days are extremely important; is when the entire organization — and in particular internal audiences — will be watching the new CEO’s every move. They will be watching for signs of expected behavior, waiting to hear objectives, plans and the vision for the business, and wondering what changes the new CEO will have for the roles and responsibilities of individual employees. It is a time when the CEO has to be careful of his or her personal behavior and interaction with all employees, as it will normally set the tone for the CEO’s long-term ability to drive success.
When it comes to executive positioning for a new CEO among internal audiences, strategic engagement is what drives the success of the CEO’s desired internal positioning. This engagement must involve up front research to first establish an understanding of the environment in which the positioning must occur — revealing the current attitudes among employees, their understanding and support for the business plan, their experience with previous leadership teams, and their expectations for the new CEO. And it will set the benchmark upon all future program measurement and evaluation efforts can take place.
Once the research is done, the planning for the executive positioning takes place — to prepare the CEO for engagement and to develop a calendar of activities that will enable the executive positioning program to be activated among internal audiences. The preparation should involve establishing personal brand goals, developing a personal narrative of themes and subjects, training in public speaking, and building the calendar of engagement activities with employees. Each activity in the calendar should be designed to deliver on the expected outcomes for the executive positioning among internal audiences and ultimately help the CEO along the first 100 day journey.
The reality of implementing a CEO’s executive positioning – for both internal and external stakeholders is never an easy task. The busy diaries of the CEO and the competing demands of the business, clients, shareholders and others means that the best-planned executive positioning program will always face competition from business-as-usual. What is important that from the start the CEO must have full buy-in to the program and not just be giving it lip-service at the recommendation of his or her communication team.
It is important to point out that a program of executive positioning for a new CEO among internal audiences will never be successful in isolation from other communication activities. It must be integrated with all other strategic communication initiatives of the organization. From media interviews and personal blog articles, to employee newsletters and town-hall forums, every communication touch point of the CEO must integrate and support each other. Ultimately, executive positioning for the CEO for both internal and external audiences must drive the entire mix of corporate reputation for the organization.