CEO or CE-Nowhere
to be Found?
Hewlett-Packard's previous chief executive officer, Carly Fiorina, was considered the
bellwether for executive external visibility. During her six-year stint as CEO of one of America's most admired companies, Ms. Fiorina frequently graced the cover of business publications and, just as
frequently, touted the company's latest
strategies on national cable news outlets.
But, when the H-P board dismissed
Ms. Fiorina earlier this year; a variety of print and online news outlets reported that while Ms. Fiorina constantly made the rounds with H-P customers and other external audiences, she was an enigma to perhaps her most important audience - her employees.
According to various accounts, poor internal communications and a lack of employee relations contributed to Ms. Fiorina's ouster. And although the dearth of employee communications initiatives at H-P wasn't the sole reason for Ms. Fiorina's firing, her dismissal is a good case study for CEOs and senior PR execs.
While the external components of the communications strategy were running on all cylinders, a comprehensive communications program without a strong internal element is analogous to building a house on sand.
With increasing pressure from boardrooms to
demonstrate value, CEOs need to first have employees on their side as strong allies and channels for the company's messages.
The late Roberto Goizueta, long-time CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, was an executive who understood the value of communications. He knew, no matter the talents or efforts of his communications staff, ultimately he was the "chief communications officer" of the
company -- and he paid careful attention to every aspect of Coke's communications, from the employee ranks to Wall Street. It's likely no coincidence he became one of the nation's most revered CEOs.
Like external communications programs, CEOs need to devote time to internal
programs, meeting with employees as often as necessary and possible. CEOs only need to
consider the value of "face-time" with customers and apply that same philosophy to employees.
From a pragmatic approach, it isn't always possible for CEOs to meet regularly with employees. In these instances, CEOs should encourage their top brass to conduct regular meetings with their respective teams to reinforce the CEO’s messages.
Technology makes it easier to have regular,
ongoing communications with employees to
communicate clear objectives and company vision and, moreover, build camaraderie in the workplace. Use e-mails, employee newsletters, and employee intranets to share good, neutral and, yes, less than positive news.
The technology boom of the 1990s created the "CEO-lebrity" atmosphere where CEOs were treated like rock stars and took every advantage of the media opportunities
presented to them. When the dust settled, readers and shareholders found that all
that glitters in the media spotlight isn't gold. Scrutiny from external audiences always appears to be intense, and therefore PR
campaigns often focus on external communication alone. Better prepared are the CEOs who demonstrate leadership, corporate vision, and commitment to
communicating company messages internally and externally. Internal communications can ultimately
create not only a great support structure for messages through employees,
but also an excellent opportunity to prove CEOs mean business inside and out.