THINKING

Basil Towers

A world class corporate affairs function will need to become a true business partner, dedicated to‘fuelling’, supporting, and enabling business success.

Corporate Affairs requires competencies that are fit for business purpose

Leaders are increasingly demanding more value from corporate affairs. They are recognising the impact that low trust and sub-optimal reputations have on their cost base, their ability to operate efficiently and their ability to compete and win. As a result, they are asking corporate affairs to re-think its purpose beyond its historic executional focus on communication, managing stakeholder engagement and managing reputation risks and crises.

This challenge is captured by a recent interviewee, a leader in a global healthcare group, who reflected:

“A world class corporate affairs function will need to become a true business partner, dedicated to ‘fuelling’, supporting, and enabling business success.”

A world class corporate affairs function will need to become a true business partner, dedicated to‘fuelling’, supporting, and enabling business success.

There are a number of building blocks that help high performing corporate affairs teams to contribute to success. These include providing insights and intelligence to support better strategic and operational decision-making; anticipating and quantifying the potential impacts of reputation risks; building corporate narratives that help the business win in its chosen territory and ensuring alignment between the corporate affairs strategy and the business strategy.

There is a common critical success factor running through all of the above that has until recently been neglected by many corporate affairs leaders: the quality of its people. The challenge is not whether they are effective communicators but are they fit for business purpose today and in the future?

Leaders are recognising the potential of the corporate affairs function, but they are also frustrated by corporate affairs people who do not have the skills, business acumen or the personal attributes to contribute to a business debate and choices. The lack of these competencies is undermining the authority and credibility of the function and its ability to make the right interventions at the right time.

The tide is turning rapidly. Driven by executive leaders who have gone outside the function to appoint the next corporate affairs leader, by a new generation of functional leaders who see themselves as business leaders first and by a great deal more rigour and attention being paid to the critical competencies that corporate affairs now requires.

Fit for business purpose competencies imply a broader, deeper range of skills and expertise beyond the traditional technical and specialist capabilities. Leading functions are investing in leadership and management competencies, in building business understanding and inculcating the behaviours required of successful leaders.

The following provide a flavour of what some of these high value competencies:

Communications

The ability to construct and execute a campaign is perhaps the most critical capability required across corporate affairs, so that all activities in the function are joined-up and executed as part of a larger, integrated goal. Literacy in digital communications and social media is crucial and required at all levels of a team. The traditional skill of writing remains important as do the newer skills of qualitative and qualitative research and data management; stakeholder mapping and analysis and channel planning. Critical reasoning and creativity are a training imperative for many.

Management

There are a number of management competencies that have remained the poor relation within corporate affairs development programmes for too long: project management, budget management, performance management, change management and management reporting. All are beginning to get the attention they deserve, as the function professionalises and focuses on continuous improvements in efficiencies and effectiveness.

Leadership

Effective functional leaders must operate as business leaders. To do so they need a deep understanding of the business model and how the business creates (and destroys) value. It is not enough for a leader to be an expert in communications, they must understand and speak the language of finance, and operations to challenge and advise. The ability to influence, persuade, negotiate are all critical competencies, as are analytical and strategic thinking.

The foundations for success

High value competencies are the foundations of the most effective corporate affairs talent management strategies and plans. They inform job profiles, recruitment and retention strategies, training and development plans, high performing leadership programmes and succession planning. Without them corporate affairs will struggle to make the contributions it should. With them it will help the business thrive.