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The CEO Agenda: Stakeholder Alignment

For CEOs, the key to stakeholder support lies in communication.


The CEO Agenda: Stakeholder Alignment

The key to stakeholder support lies in communication. Bain partners James AllenJulie CoffmanEric Garton and Peter Parry discuss how the creation, timing and delivery of the right messages can help CEOs line stakeholders behind their plan.

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Read the transcript below.

JAMES ALLEN: Great CEOs get it: Part of the job is stakeholder alignment. And in many ways, that's the execution element of a CEO—meaning, for a CEO, execution is communication to stakeholders. And as they think about it, they become the cheerleaders of the strategy. They're almost the chief change agent of the strategy and what they're doing. And so they think about who are the stakeholders I need to talk about? For each, what is the right message? And also, what's the right cadence of delivery?

You know—a board I might be able to work on once a month, talking to my board. It may be with my front line; I've got to be there once a week, and I've got to be there really communicating a much different cadence of communication. So the art of stakeholder alignment, if you look at the behaviors of the great CEOs, is all around this notion of, pick the stakeholders, pick the messages, and then get the cadence right.

JULIE COFFMAN: Great strategy requires us to get it out of the realm of the boardroom and into the hands of those that are driving the real value for our customers. What you need to be focused on in doing that is spending time cocreating the right messages with your key talent leaders, but then also thinking about how we're going to translate that into the front-line routines and behaviors that'll truly change the customer experience and allow us to drive the value from the strategy.

ERIC GARTON: Most of the CEOs I know spend an inordinate amount of time aligning stakeholders behind their plan. They care both about the content of the messages, but also about the speed at which they are executing those messages and those decisions. This sends a really powerful signal throughout their organization about the velocity at which they expect their company to operate.

PETER PARRY: For the CEO, communications are key. Building productive relationships with the board, with the chairman, with external stakeholders, is a vital part of the activity, especially in industries where there's some cyclicality. The story and the communication quality will really matter and add value throughout the relationship. However, the key relationship with the chairman, the balance of that relationship, the way in which they work together over time, is going to set apart good companies from those who follow.

The communication agenda is also broadening significantly, especially with stakeholders now able to access more information about the company, look for more detail, and avoid surprises. Stakeholder groups are getting broader. NGOs, governments, employees, customers, all want a perspective on the company—how it's doing and where it's headed. Especially in industries that are cyclical, where there are ups and downs, the quality of that communication really matters.

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