Now more purposeful than ever: how Corporate Affairs has been rebooted in the face of Covid-19

16 Feb 2021

Now more purposeful than ever: how Corporate Affairs has been rebooted in the face of Covid-19

As the role of business purpose takes centre stage in the wake of COVID-19, senior Corporate Affairs leaders have faced multiple new challenges.

The shock arrival of COVID-19 impacted on the Corporate Affairs function in multiple ways, and all in a matter of months. CA leaders have been catapulted to prominence, standing in the daily spotlight, emerging with raised stature, with the role now demanding new qualities.

Their changed priorities and responsibilities have been accelerated by the rising importance of having a clearly defined and well demonstrated corporate purpose. It has placed the role four-square at the centre of delivering on a company’s purpose.

Changed priorities, changed profile

So, looking more closely, what has changed and what is working, and how does this change the profile of the role? Key to this is the new environment created by COVID.

Firstly, CAs are, as a recent Oxford-GlobeScan Corporate Affairs Survey reported, ‘required to over-communicate in a socially-distant world.’ Mostly working in a world of virtual comms, they have, almost more importantly, had to navigate several changes of audience.

The big rise has been in internal comms, with 86% of those surveyed spending more time internally.

Then, there’s the uptick in the importance of simultaneously managing a wider spread of government/community/funder/investor audiences. (As well as their own team, of course.)

More work, more widely, more speed

For CAs, the activities that have increased have reflected the changes in audiences. As the report identifies, the first is explaining the organisation’s role and responsibilities within society. Industry relations have also become a particularly important area as organisations look to collaborate with other organisations on critical issues. Extra work on government relations reflects a sharp rise in governmental and regulatory expectations as to what business can do to help during the pandemic. Finally, community relations activity has risen too as organisations have had to ramp up the support and protection of the local communities where they operate.

CA professionals have to do deal with this increased volume of work at pace in an often-fevered environment.

This rising importance of addressing the world beyond the business is reflective of the evolving corporate outlook that no longer makes profit the only driving force for business. This was a growing trend for CAs even before the pandemic struck.

Serious senior team player

Another change for CAs is the much closer tie-in to senior management. In the report, over six in ten respondents reported greater access to the CEO, and much more regular engagement with senior leaders.

CAs are often leading the debate on reacting to fast-moving events, expected to take the lead in their organisation’s COVID-19 response.

What this changed environment demands is CA leaders who can operate with peak authenticity and are unafraid of doing so within heightened levels of transparency.

Excelling online

Of course, this new-model engagement has had to happen through digital platforms. With the demise of the in-person one-to-ones, social occasions, trade events, conferences and so forth, it is now webinars, video calls and social media that are the place for engaging with audiences.

Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp are the new normal

That’s proved easier for digital natives, but less so for some senior managers. It certainly requires a different personal approach, and the ability to slip effortlessly from one-to-ones to big Zoom rooms. There’s even some demand to coach senior leadership colleagues who also need to adapt to the new normalcy.

A vision beyond the crisis

Undoubtedly , the COVID-19 has changed the way in which the Corporate Affairs function is expected to contribute and be governed.

The talent in demand for this changed world is a more- rounded collaborative professional who is able to see multiple points of view, but still be clear on organisation purpose and priorities. Someone who is not just about managing a crisis, but able to share a forward vision.

Our job is to understand those changed requirements, and to provide the ‘whole person’ picture via our assessment tools, industry insights and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

To discuss your leadership needs or your personal professional trajectory, please get in touch. We’ll be happy to help.