Being influential and managing reputation are key functions of a Corporate Affairs Director but in today’s fast-paced world, the role is becoming more sustainability-led.
Historically, an organisation’s sustainability function was a ‘nice to have’ rather than the ‘must have’ that it has become. As a heavier emphasis is placed on the importance of sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) principles, the function has been carved out as a critical component of the workplace.
As a result, this has a significant impact on the corporate management team, particularly the individuals who now have to wear the sustainability and ESG hat as part of their remit, in alignment with evolving business requirements. Corporate Affairs Directors, I am looking at you.
Typically a Corporate Affairs Director (CAD) came from a journalistic or public affairs/lobbying background, with the advantage of possessing the relevant media contacts and understanding of communicating policy and government affairs.
While this is a powerful new string to add to their bow, the transition can be deemed somewhat challenging, in terms of closing a potential skills gap. CADs don’t necessarily come from a sustainability background. Yet here they are, in control of corporate communications and gaining the trust of stakeholders one minute while being responsible for ESG matters the next.
While most corporations initially focused on the Environmental element of ESG - climate change and carbon emissions being the main talking points - there has been a shakeup, in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. The focus has now increased towards the Social aspect of ESG, in terms of how employees, stakeholders, customers and shareholders are treated alongside the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and ESG is under a brighter spotlight as it becomes more vital for businesses to move forward.
We have looked at five traits that a Corporate Affairs Director could develop to assist in the transition to taking on the ESG function of the company.
Businesses must adapt to a change in culture and are more accountable to stakeholders as the business develops. The ability to influence internally as well as externally is a key to success but trust must be built to achieve this.
Many large companies who responded positively to the pandemic gained more trust from stakeholders, and the more intently they focused on ESG issues, the better.
A CAD tends to be innovative and strategic, with the ability to translate complex technical information into more simplistic language. However, to break down the jargon into layman’s terms, a CAD can request additional support from a ESG technical expert. Support and engagement from others are often key to problem solving and being influential, it shouldn’t always have to be conducted autonomously.
Blended Functional Skill Set
Functions that were previously siloed across public affairs, communications, policy and sustainability are now working more closely together. It is inevitable when you consider that sustainability priorities relate to public affairs challenges, so it is the duty of the CAD to communicate both in a compelling way.
While the hard skills of being a technical ESG/Sustainability expert aren’t necessarily required, it is key to understand the bigger picture of what is happening within the company and how it relates to reputation and risk.
Ability to Deal with Scrutiny
Shareholders care about ESG matters, the same way stakeholders do, and transparency plays an important role in showing how a company operates.
Consumers have more choice these days and have no qualms in asking questions of companies, so it is key to ensure the corporation is in a prime position ready to boldly stand up to scrutiny.
As technology moves at a considerable pace, the lines of communication are opened between consumers and businesses as digital interaction becomes commonplace. It encourages a more open and robust narrative between the two parties, as a consumer wants to feel confident that they are making the right decision and therefore businesses can be exposed and may rely on the CAD to help them navigate this.
Communicate with Purpose
It is vital that the CAD communicates in a purpose-driven, meaningful way that will benefit stakeholders and shareholders alike, adapting the language depending on whom they are conversing with. Consumers have more choice these days and are more mindful about where they are spending their money.
As a result, there is more pressure put upon companies to do the right thing societally, when they are aware of the scrutiny they can face. But this higher demand on businesses is a positive impact in terms of raising the bar and ensuring vigorous and effective ESG measures are firmly embedded.
The communication skills of a CAD will help raise the company profile in this instance and help support employees who are asking more from their employers, because they care about where they work.
Businesses are undergoing transformation at a considerable pace, more so due to the pandemic, and things are evolving quickly in the sustainability space with research finding ESG performance tops the list of corporate affairs risk priorities.
The CAD must be adaptable when the role requires and open to change and personal development. The pandemic has taught us the need to adapt. It’s about striking a balance and utilizing the skills CADs already have, with having an open mind to learn along the way to successfully navigate the business in the right direction.
Dani Brown is Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications Executive Search at Acre. If you are looking to hire within the corporate affairs, communications, public affairs or sustainability functions please get in touch with Dani - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dani specialises in recruiting senior executive, board and advisory roles across the Corporate Affairs, Communications, Public Affairs, Government Relations and Sustainability functions. She works with a range of clients including corporates, agencies and membership and trade associations.
Her expertise focuses on those shaping change through developing and implementing compelling strategic narratives, frameworks, policies and campaigns in an ever changing and uncertain landscape with multiple stakeholders. She has recruited Directors, Chairs and CEO’s all managing the reputation, purpose and trust of their organisations.
She has over 20 years executive search experience having worked for global executive search firm Korn Ferry, run her own business and worked for smaller specialist corporate affairs and communications boutiques.