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The Growing Strategic Influence of the Corporate Affairs Leader

A smiling corporate affairs leader
Rapid advances in technology and interconnectivity have given people a public forum to air their opinions, including those that express a general distrust for businesses and government. The increased public scrutiny and subsequent shift in investor expectations have raised the strategic value of reputational risk management, turning corporate affairs leaders into enablers of growth and performance.

We’re living in an era of distrust in which the concept of ‘endless growth’ is being questioned as more people turn their attention to global problems like climate change and inequality. The expectation from investors, consumers, and employees for business leaders to stand for something more than profit maximisation has been well and truly cemented and only continues to grow.

Today, organisations have to be perceived as legitimately playing by the rules of society, capable of fulfilling their commitments and trusted to deliver actions that will benefit everyone in order to appease key stakeholders and maintain their social license to operate.

As a result, the strategic value of reputation is widely recognised and the C-suite is increasingly turning to the corporate affairs leader to provide insight into stakeholder perceptions before making critical decisions.

A Balancing Act Among Headwinds

The role of corporate affairs is to always provide a clear view of any potential risks that could impact overall business operations. These risks can include tighter regulations, growing competition, and shifts in public opinion. That task is becoming more difficult because businesses and organisations are now being held accountable by a complex and expanding network of stakeholders, with diverse (and at times, competing) values.

Furthermore, a social license to operate is granted by the community and is rooted in the beliefs, perceptions, and opinions held by the local population and other stakeholders about a project. That means it is dynamic and non-permanent because beliefs, opinions, and perceptions are subject to change as new information comes to light. Social licenses have to be earned and just because you have one today, doesn’t mean you will have one tomorrow. Corporate affairs leaders have to measure and maintain them over time, with a larger group of interdependent stakeholders than ever before.

That’s why a stakeholder relationship management strategy and platform are now essential for managing corporate affairs. You need to correctly identify all stakeholders, prioritise them based on influence and impact, plan how to engage them, and monitor their ongoing perceptions of your organisation. Maintaining your social license is more than understanding and discovery, it’s about being accurate and proactive in pre-empting issues.

Shifting from Execution to Strategy Development

According to Franz Passche, the SCP of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Paypal, ‘as the role of corporations in society has evolved, so too has the role of the communications professional in advising our C-suite colleagues on ways to lead, inspire and engage through strategic internal and external communications, and ongoing stakeholder engagement.’

Community acceptance can’t be bought and the commitments made by an organisation need to be lived consistently, inside and outside a company because discrepancies can be publicly aired quickly. Likewise, changing stakeholder expectations and values need to be shared, understood, and acted upon internally as they evolve. With a stakeholder relationship management platform, it’s easy to report on changing sentiment and reset priorities accordingly. Data analytics, insight, and actionable measurements can be shared organisation-wide, ensuring that different departments engaging with different stakeholders are all aligned on the same strategy. They also provide a clear line of sight as to how the company’s decisions and actions are resonating with key stakeholders. Information spreads quickly and corporations need to be aligned, adaptive, and data-driven to keep their finger on the pulse.

A Growing Need for Storytelling

It’s becoming more difficult for corporations to control the narrative in the increasingly polarised and fragmented media landscape and the role of the corporate affairs leader is to help craft and articulate the company’s mission and value realisation to the full spectrum of stakeholders. Powerful storytelling can bring to life how companies and leaders are addressing the community’s most pressing challenges. Communication, sentiment analysis, and segmentation tools within stakeholder management platforms also enable us to deliver the right message to the right stakeholder at the right time. With insights into stakeholder perceptions, it’s easier to shape clear, distilled messages that are aligned with the strategy and drive results.

Empowered by technology and data analytics, corporate affairs managers also now sit in a unique position to capture and translate stakeholder insights in ways that help their organisation deliver against evolving expectations. It’s possible to measure and share the progress that has been made on issues of importance to key stakeholders and champion the next course of action internally.

Connectivity and Alignment

Corporate affairs leaders have to align communications and strategy throughout the businesses. Using data and storytelling to influence decision-making, today it’s nothing less than crucial to mitigate risk while positively shaping the brand. Stakeholders want accountability and outcomes, and the growing mission for corporate affairs leaders is to help people identify with a brand and become emotionally invested in its future.

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