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Public Affairs Insights from the Centre


23 May 2019

Key Insights: Trends and Developments in Leadership Communications

Wayne Burns

The Centre recently held a full-day executive education module focused on trends and developments in leadership communications. The module was led by the Centre’s Executive Director Wayne Burns, and Guest Faculty was Melissa O’Neill (General Manager Corporate Affairs – Bunnings) and Liz McNamara (Group Director, Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability – Coca-Cola Amatil).

Here, Wayne Burns summarises the top 10 insights from the module.


1. There is a big difference between management communications and leadership communications:
- management communications are focused on policies, payroll, procedures. They are most often technical. Most frequently THEY DO NOT NEED TO BE COMMUNICATED BY LEADERS. BUT BY MANAGERS. These communications should command little of your time. They should be communications by managers responsible for compliance.

2. Strategy: have one. If you don’t have a LEADERSHIP POSITIONING AND ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY for the entire leadership team, develop one. If you don’t have a strategy, you’ll likely become part of someone else’s.

3. The most common element of any effective leadership communications strategy and its execution is a cogent corporate narrative. If you don’t have a corporate narrative, your organisation should have one. Best practice is to have one.

4. Leadership communications are most effective when they are authentic. If the leader cannot produce her/his own communications, it is unlikely to be authentic – unless a professional communicator producing content is in synch with the values, voice, and tone of the leader.

5. Measure and analyse the reach and effectiveness of leadership communications. Measurement can be rapid and inexpensive – ask stakeholders what they perceive about the communication they are receiving. Measurement informs progress, and strategy.

6. If leaders kick-start an issue or conversation they have to see it through to a conclusion (or handover at least). Disengagement is the result of this not happening.

7. If working with managers who are described as ‘leaders’, but whom won’t or don’t step up and seek to be effective communicators:
- flag this with them and your Head of Corporate Public Affairs. If you are Head of Function, flag poor or ineffective performance of the manager with the CEO;
- even if it is not achievable initially request that a stakeholder engagement and communications KPI be a remuneration at risk measure for every C-suite executive. This is now common practice in corporations, agencies of state, and non-government organisations in Australia, and globally.

8. Work to make the organisation appreciate that person-to-person communication (including via digital, video, and audio platforms) from leader to stakeholder remains the most effective and powerful form of communications.

9. Seek and spend time with leaders who are engaging with and communicating with stakeholders. The better you know them and their lives, the more apt you will be to advise them on how to tell their stories to bring the corporate narrative to life.

10. If your CEO wont or can’t be at the forefront of stakeholder communications, ask him/her to nominate whom in the C-suite they want to take on the role (we counsel you to not put a dog in that fight yourself by leaving that decision to the CEO).

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