Leading in the age of transparency

An interview with Rod Cartwright, Partner at Ketchum, and Kieran Colville, Director at Ketchum Change.


Why is this the ‘age of transparency’ and what does that mean?

Rod: When we use the term transparency we are referring to the blurred line between the internal operations of a business and the external world of consumers, stakeholders and the media.  The line has been blurred mainly through the rise in digital and social media, which sees free-flowing information and content seized on and shared instantly.  This has changed the game for leaders because if the idea that they could “control” their organisation’s corporate culture and reputation was ever a reality, it most certainly isn’t now.

Kieran: I agree Rod, the game has changed.  You don’t need to look very far to find examples of employee communications that were “leaked”, got picked up by the media, and went viral, forcing leaders to respond and take action.  Those stories may have happened 20 years ago but today they spread so much faster and wider.

Can you tell us more about what the wider implications could be if an organisation fail to react?

Kieran: There are several.  Potential employees may be turned off; current employees may become disengaged; and ultimately consumers may question whether they would want to continue purchasing from this company. This is the crucial point.  Now more than ever, how engaged employees are, and therefore how much they promote and recommend the organisation, has a much larger impact on consumer confidence and loyalty than it used to because of this increased “transparency.”

Rod:  Indeed! And this has been one of the key findings of our global Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (KLCM) study, which we’ve been running for five years now. The research with consumers across five continents sets out to answer two simple questions: “What does the world think of its leaders?” and “What can those leaders do to restore confidence?”  We have found that poor corporate leadership prompts one in two respondents to stop purchasing or to purchase less.

Kieran: To make it simple: leadership drives employee engagement, which drives consumer loyalty.  In 2014, “employees we know” came in at No.3 on the list of determinants of consumers’ purchasing behaviour, with the CEO coming in at No. 10 and other senior management at No. 13.  Leaders cannot ignore the importance of creating the right culture and engaging employees in the right way, as they are the brand ambassadors in today’s world.

This makes sense.  So how bad is the current state of affairs?

Rod: At no point in five years of running KLCM have more than 25 percent of respondents said leaders are leading well.  So consumer confidence is consistently poor, with demonstrable commercial consequences.

Kieran: What Rod said.  It is that stark.

Yes, that is glaring data.  It sounds like something the CEO should care about personally.

Rod: Absolutely.  However, in 2015 we highlighted the rise of the title-less leader, with respondents overwhelmingly favouring leadership provided by the entire organisation and everyone within it, rather than just from the CEO or senior management.

Kieran: From the study, respondents look strongly to leaders at all levels who seek collaborative solutions rather than doing it alone; are open and honest about the nature and scale of the challenges ahead; and have a clear overall vision for how their organisation can survive and thrive.  At Ketchum Change we have developed a practical model for helping leaders build capabilities in these areas: our approach is called Liquid Change Leadership to reflect the need to be readily adaptable in today’s volatile and complex environment.

Sounds very relevant.  How can leaders apply this Liquid Change Leadership model?

Kieran: It is very practical and actionable.  It has four capability areas: Transparent, Dialled-In, Pioneering and Agile, each with a positive level to do more of and a negative level to eliminate.  We will be covering this at our event on 20 October so you’ll have to come to find out more.

Rod: At the event we will also dive into the study in more detail.  The latest results point to leadership communication that needs to be more “feminine” and diverse, and we will discuss what this means.

Sounds intriguing, I will definitely be there.  Thank you both for your time today.

Kieran: Thank you, this is a critical area for leaders at a critical time, so we appreciate the opportunity to discuss it.

Rod: Thank you.  See you on 20 October.

Interview by James Murphy EEA

Kieran and Rod will be speaking at our next event on October 20th – Leading in the age of transparency



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