HomeEditorial CommentHow thinking like a CEO will make you succeed in PR

How thinking like a CEO will make you succeed in PR

Organisations thrive on excellent leadership. That should be a given, especially when the CEO knows how to effectively use the human resources at his disposal. In past articles, we have shown why it is important for the public relations function to be placed at the decision-making table.

By Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga

Students of public relations (PR) are aware of the Excellence Theory that “specifies how public relations makes organisations more effective, how it is organised and managed when it contributes most to organisational effectiveness, the conditions in organisations and their environments that make organisations more effective, and how the monetary value of public relations can be determined.”

The theory came out of a study by Professor James E Grunig in 1985. Over the years, the Excellence Theory has been adapted to a growing acceptance in the business world, with issues to do with communication having grown to determine how effectively an organisation functions.

This should also be seen in the light of rapid developments in information technology (IT) and the growing influence of social media. A phenomenon that has opened organisations to greater public scrutiny, with the concomitant risks to their reputation.

In yet another contribution, we stated that for PR practitioners (PRPs) to be part of the “ruling coalition”, they need to earn their place. It cannot be automatic that the PRP be included in the executive until they can prove their value.

There are two options, or three, that can be exploited. The first, and the most ideal, is for senior communication representation on the executive team. In countries like Zimbabwe, this role is often represented by the marketing executive, a position that is far from ideal. It must be accepted that public relations and marketing are both separate and different professions.

The second, which worked well for me when I served as senior public relations officer with the City of Bulawayo, is to sit in during executive meetings, then offer post-meeting counsel to the chief executive based on the deliberations. More like fly-on-the-wall access.

The third, and least effective, is to ask for the agenda, then offer snippets communication-related issues that could arise as the executives deliberated. It’s more of adding communication intelligence to the CEO’s arsenal. In all opportunities, it takes a proactive practitioner to be able to get his or her foot in the door.

I will not dwell on the pros and cons of these approaches but restrict myself to sharing how PRPs can effectively prepare themselves to be credible and effective counsel to their CEOs. In my 17 odd years in the profession, I have had the benefit of working with many CEOs and had first-hand experience of how they think and function.

It is this insight, that David Grossman (pictured), ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CEO of the Grossman Group, shares in his article, How to Think Like a CEO: Become a Better Leader, published in The Public Relations Strategist.

He says that understanding how CEOs think, their practical behaviours and skills that work for the most effective leaders can shape one into a strategist, which is critical to be more effective, productive and be able to influence others to get results.
Among the 10 things a CEO cares about, Grossman shares what we have known for a long time. It’s all about his bosses, the board. Yes, he is focussed on what the board cares about.

“Typically, boards are focused on the long-term, and managing up has never been more challenging given corporate missteps, watchdog groups, investor and analyst groups and media coverage, not to mention the individual interests of board members themselves that sometimes come into play,” says Grossman. Knowing what the board wants, their expectations and how to manage them is key.

In one’s case, be reflective of how you meet your boss’ demands. Are you up to the tasks that he sets for you and how do you achieve his satisfaction? How well you do this is sure to aggregate value to his own performance in the eyes of the board.

One boss found out the hard way how foisting unrealistic goals on me, out of spite, came back to bite him as reflecting badly on his leadership. Leadership is not about scoring cheap points at someone’s expense. It’s more like sharpening axe to be able to fell a tree.

Another key CEO demand is that of performance and how this is reflected in the bottom line. CEOs know their numbers, and their business too! But it is how they bring the resources at their disposal to achieve the goals of the organisation.

The PRP should know this terrain well and know how best to demonstrate their value. Performance is related to skill, and it is up to you to ensure you are up to speed not only on your turf but the environment and the financials that dictate the business your organisation is in.

If studying financial accounting or economics will add value to what you can deliver, then go for it. I have found that my exposure to human resource management has made me a better tactician. I have also been training senior management in people management, an area that when neglected has proven costly to many a CEO.

Keeping oneself up to speed with new developments in IT is also prudent. Especially when one’s organisation offers services in that area as their value proposition to potential clients. That is in addition to identifying and engaging the right personnel to drive it.

Grossman says that culture is critical because how one gets work done matters.

“To effectively shape values and standards, leadership must be aligned and exhibit the critical behaviours and daily actions central to the organisation,” he says.

The systems in place, such as performance management, also need to be synced up to drive desired behaviours, especially in times of change. Grossman says that one should reflect on how one’s actions and words send the message that performance matters.

In other words, how are you promoting the organisation’s values and ensuring that your behaviours are in sync with its core values?

As one reflects on how to approach the new year, it’s important to ponder on what a CEO cares about. One should consider which of the above, and what we will share in the next instalment, would do most to help one lead better and differentiate oneself.

Grossman says that one doesn’t need to be a CEO to take some of these best-practice strategies and apply them to their job. There must be at least one or two that are a no-brainer for you.

l Lenox Mhlanga is a communication specialist and associate with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants. He has worked with the World Bank and as a part-time lecturer in Public Relations at the National University of Science and Technology. He is a Board Member of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe. email: lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com

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