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The Alliance Between Growth and Social Purpose

The Unifier and Growth

A recent study from McKinsey indicated that CEOs are turning to marketing to drive their company’s growth agenda, with 83 percent of global CEOs saying that marketing can be a major driver for growth.

The function, which has too often been thought of as the “brand” or “advertising” arm of the business, now has a significant opportunity to position itself as the growth driver of today’s business.

Many of the 260 C-suite executives interviewed by McKinsey between February to May 2019 no longer view marketing as bound by functions that sit in the marketing department. A new model has emerged where diverse areas of the organisation – from sales and product innovation, to finance, technology, and HR – participate in marketing’s success and see themselves as partners in its mission. The CMO has a crucial role to play in driving organisations toward this vision.

McKinsey’s analysis reveals that a marketing organisation’s ability to drive growth depends heavily on the strength of the partnerships the CMO can forge across the organisation, calling these CMO’s “Unifiers”.

The Connecting Leader and Social Purpose

An analogue to the development revealed by McKinsey’s study is the opportunity that the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) has to drive the social purpose of the organisation.

As covered in my book The Connecting Leader, in today’s economic and social context the New Normal, there’s a pressing need for organisations to be more stakeholder-focused and be clearer about the role business plays in society and for all its stakeholders.

To enable this renewed relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders, CCOs have the opportunity to become the connecting agent between stakeholder perspectives and the purpose of the organisation.

At the time of completing the research for The Connecting Leader in August 2018, I found very few CCOs who had the license to challenge the organisation with the “stakeholder view” and indeed very few who felt comfortable asking questions such as: Is this initiative aligned with the type of business we are or want to be? What’s the implication to society (and individual stakeholders) of taking this action? Are we doing this just to make money or because it is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders?

While senior executives understood that business plays an important role in society, the short-term pressure to deliver shareholder value was far more intense than the focus required to invest in building a business that creates value for a wide range of constituents.

Stronger Together

Then in August 2019 the Business Roundtable announced that its members had embraced a model of capitalism that takes into account the interests of all corporate stakeholders—and thereby renounced the idea that shareholders should always come first—it painted the move as one part affirmation, one part aspiration.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, the organisation’s chairman, said in unveiling the Business Roundtable’s statement on “the purpose of a corporation” that it “more accurately reflects how our CEOs and their companies operate” while, at the same time, it “will help to set a new standard for corporate leadership”.

Time will tell whether action will follow these well-meaning words and whether we will see the adoption of a much-needed model that is inclusive of all the key stakeholders instead of being solely focused on shareholder value creation, at the expense of everything and everybody else.

An important step toward this new model will be taken when CEOs and Senior Executive teams recognise that the elevation of the CCO to the top table is needed. Effective stakeholder management and relevant communication are competencies that companies must excel at in order to achieve a healthy relationship between business and its stakeholders.

What is clear is that as organisations evolve and adapt to this new standard for corporate leadership, we should see the emergence of Unifier CMOs driving growth and Connecting CCOs enabling social purpose. The leaders of both functions should step up to seize this opportunity and galvanise their alliance. The CMO and the CCO are stronger together.

Alberto López Valenzuela

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