Advice from those who have got the t-shirt

We recently published a paper that provides insight and practical advice for anyone taking on a new leadership role in corporate affairs. Together with our friends at Apella Advisors, we interviewed 30 leading Corporate Affairs Directors from a wide range of organisations including BT, Heineken, Rio Tinto and the Wellcome Trust to find out how they prepared for their first day, how they developed a meaningful plan and most importantly, their key drivers for success. Six common themes emerged:

1. Understand the business. You won’t be able to do your job well if you don’t really understand the business. Take responsibility for your own induction, get out and about and talk to as many people as possible, inside and outside of the business. Don’t miss the opportunity to ask the questions only a new member of the team can ask and make sure you understand the commercial drivers and the balance sheet. Find the gaps in your knowledge and fix them.

2. Get your team right. Build the best team you can afford, as quickly as you can. Assess the skills and structure you need and have got. Where changes are necessary, trust your instincts and act quickly. Make sure your team know they are important to you and you’ve got their back. And regularly review your team to make sure it is up to, and up for, the task ahead.

3. Have a plan, get stuff done, add value. You need a plan, but it doesn’t have to be perfect; it will always be a work in progress. Make sure that your vision is shared with and understood by peers and your function. Deliver some quick tactical wins to demonstrate your intent, but don’t be tempted into making big decisions too early.

4. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Corporate affairs leaders succeed through influence. You need a broad network and a coalition of allies. Get regular quality time with your ExCo peers, the CEO, Chairman and key Non-Execs. And always speak truth to power.

5. Be a business leader, not just the corporate affairs leader. You are one of the leaders of the whole organisation. Use the opportunity to shape its direction, applying your corporate affairs lens to commercial challenges. Have a view on issues beyond your brief and speak up, but not just for the sake of it – less is often more. Believe in yourself; you have earned that place at the table.

6. Bring the outside in. A critical role of the Corporate Affairs Director is to help the business understand how it is viewed by the outside world and identify emerging risks and opportunities. Use data – polling, social listening, external benchmarking. Bring in experts, be open to new ideas, engage widely and read extensively.

You’ll find the report here: If Only I’d Known That Then, Lessons from Corporate Affairs Leaders. We hope the advice in the report will prove useful to anyone about to embark on their first or next corporate affairs leadership role, as well as to those aspiring to get there in the future.  We believe it also provides some interesting insights for Chairman and CEOs looking to get the most from their corporate affairs leaders.

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2nd September 2020

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