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The Environment, The Experience, The Executive

This year, Watermark’s Interim Executive Annual Survey is framed around three pillars shaping the supply and demand sides of the interim executive marketplace – the Executive, the Experience, and the Environment. Reinvention emerged as a key theme in 2020 and is underpinned by the three pillars; the ‘Executive’ who needs to step up to interim, the ‘Experience’ required by clients who want access to interim, and the ‘Environment’ which has created a need for interim.

Below is a real-world example of how these ‘Three Es’ have underpinned reinvention for one of our fantastic interims with deep functional expertise in corporate affairs and communications. This is their case study:

The Environment 

We know now the huge global impact of the pandemic and what is at stake.

One of the most interesting learnings for corporate affairs professionals and leaders is the impact of COVID on significant global trends already underway.

A recent RepTrak global study is among many to show the impact of the pandemic in supercharging societal expectations on corporations and leaders who are seen to play unique roles in taking care of people and stakeholders, providing both with a platform to re-establish trust. Leadership has become less about capability and more about character.

Companies and leaders who were seen to take the lead by acting quickly and communicating their actions transparently were able to earn high levels of trust, improving their corporate reputation scores by 19.5 percentage points, enough to move from weak to strong (March 2020, Reputation Institute). This was especially true for those who were able to demonstrate a strong connection between their actions and their core purpose.

Messaging must balance performance against traditional drivers (value for shareholders) with societal drivers (value for society).

The Experience

Crises are important learning opportunities for leaders and companies. For organisations they are a true test of your culture and purpose and for leaders of capability and character.

When approached with a growth mindset, highly disruptive environments offer corporate affairs professionals the unique opportunity to bring demonstrable value for their stakeholders in a time of greatest need, whilst also testing their own mettle and fast-tracking personal development.

To deliver value for an organisation and its stakeholder, an interim executive must first be able to quickly assess the internal and external landscape in order to grasp the operating context.

For a particular FMCG company with a national manufacturing footprint and large workforce operating across every state and territory, the potential impact of the COVID pandemic on the health and wellbeing of their people and those they work with, as well as their ability to continue making their beverages and getting them to customers was significant.  

The Executive

Our featured interim executive has done a lot of work on values and strengths-based leadership. When they reflect on the challenges of their six months as a public affairs, communications, and sustainability interim executive at an FMCG company, they feel pride in having delivered value for the business and in elevating the role of the corporate affairs and communications function to what is now undoubtedly an ‘essential service’, as well as a sense of fulfillment from a personal leadership journey that’s pushed them to lean into their strengths and truly live their values and purpose.

When the company’s COVID taskforce was set up, our featured interim executive had full accountability for all communications for their Australian-based business. 

Having recently ‘road-tested’ their issue response procedures through the catastrophic bushfires of late 2019/early 2020, this interim executive drew on four key principles to guide their response:

  • Growth mindset – Fear is contagious but so is calm. Crises offer opportunities to really step up and change what’s possible. Lead.
  • Independent thinking – In a rapidly evolving, uncertain, and disruptive landscape, the ability to manage ambiguity and act fast is fundamental. This means adopting an ‘outside-in’ mindset, utilising key people, and constantly triangulating information, showing courage to lead, and displaying empathy when you do. Being part of a global system allowed this company to apply learnings from bottlers in markets like Spain and China, who were ahead of Australia in the curve.
  • Ruthless prioritisation – In a crisis situation, businesses and leaders must prioritise more ruthlessly than ever. Maintaining bandwidth for the team and for internal stakeholders is crucial as well as reviewing and redeploying resources (people, budgets, channels) to focus on immediate priorities.
  • Communicate in high bandwidth - In times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to be proactive and transparent. Uncertainty fuels speculation and spreads anxiety and fear. Establish single point communications accountability, communicate daily, share openly across all employees, ensure your leaders are highly visible and that your narrative is fully aligned to your organisational purpose and values.

By adopting this approach, collaborating closely with all areas of the business, and aligning their resources to their strategy, the FMCG company this interim executive worked for, developed a strong and compelling corporate narrative. They brought to life across their stakeholder ecosystem through 100 stories (their proof points) fed out continuously across all their owned physical and digital assets and amplified authentically through their highly engaged and passionate workforce and stakeholder network. The result was internal communications that achieved 92% employee approval rating for COVID response effectiveness, with 94% of their people saying they felt their health and safety had been prioritised and the same proportion said they’d been kept well informed.

Externally, this FMCG company delivered positive national print media coverage and shattered previous digital engagement metrics, achieving a record monthly audience of over 4.3 million (April 2020) and improving their engagement rate by over 20%. 

As an ASX-listed company, their commitment to protecting the wellbeing of their people, servicing their customers, and protecting their business was reflected in the open and comprehensive approach they took. This included providing market updates for investors and analysts, communicating with their customers through clear and frequent messaging to their field teams, regular EDMs, and constant updates to their order platform, and to suppliers, brand, and supply chain partners.

For a discussion on how you can deploy this featured Watermark Interim Executive or other highly talented Interim Executives please reach out to the Interim Executive team in your state:

Sydney - Caroline McAuliffe and Lisa McAuliffe
Melbourne - Jacinta Whelan andDonna Burr

Click here to download a copy of our Interim Executive Annual Survey 2020.