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10 Things CEOs need to know to survive in 2020

The innumerable challenges and crises that arise more quickly each day are forcing CEOs to adopt a new skill set and a new mindset.

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“CEOs are facing a daunting new level of challenges around social media, technology, political standoffs, and stakeholder pressures, says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group/TMG. “How a CEO acts and reacts around these challenges and crisis events today – and gets the company on board around the changes necessary – will be the moment of reckoning for a company’s survival.”

The person in the CEO role today is very different as a whole from 10-15 years ago, says Miles. “The innumerable challenges and crises that arise more quickly each day are forcing CEOs to adopt a new skill set and a new mindset.”

Below are 10 factors Miles and his colleagues at TMG have identified as essential focus areas for CEOs entering 2020.

1. Handling “social emotional events.” 

As we move into a ‘social economy’ with leadership actions being scrutinized and judged by millions over social media, CEOs are learning the hard way the consequences of not addressing this reality – and it often translates into their leaving the company. Responding to or taking a stand on today’s ‘social emotional events’ or issues – from plastic waste to the NRA to LGBTQ issues – as well as to a company’s own crisis events requires a new CEO skill set of being able to connect with the public at a completely different level.

2. Shifting from a “know-it-all” to a “learn-it-all” company with a growth mindset. 

The story of Microsoft under the leadership of Satya Nadella is a powerful example of embracing what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has identified as a ‘growth mindset’ – and how this approach can save a company. Nadella took the same assets that the previous CEO had and has added more than $850 billion in market capitalization. He has focused on a cultural transformation, moving from the fixed mindset Microsoft had held onto for too long. Under his watch, Microsoft has shifted from a ‘know-it-all’ to a ‘learn-it-all’ company that is open to learning and new ideas. More companies can learn from Nadella’s model as nothing can be taken for granted any longer in today’s rapid business climate.

3. Prioritizing investment in a business’s digital future. 

Digitization of every business has been talked about for the past 20+ years, but we have finally reached the point where this is real. For companies not in the tech space, investing in digital development means focusing on the ‘business of tomorrow.’ Many of them are so focused on winning in the business of today that they risk being late or outright missing the transformation to digital. But getting a company to prioritize digitization is not like Star Trek where a CEO can just ‘Make it so.’ The CEO must make this imperative part of their drumbeat from the top so that it gets the attention and investment required. Digitization requires a real focus and investment in building the organizational capabilities needed for a company’s future success.

4. Training the company, and the CEO, as an Olympic athlete.

The pattern of a company’s adding some excess during a good run and then shedding the excess when the run was over is coming to an end. Today, many CEOs see their companies as Olympic athletes – where it’s essential to maintain a top level of ‘fitness’ at all times and it’s everyone’s role to stay focused and not allow excess to creep in. CEOs themselves are also prioritizing their own fitness to stay sharp and withstand the physical toll of working in today’s very demanding global business climate with extensive travel, 24/7 communications, and more – a far cry from the wining-and-dining CEO of before.

5. Getting ahead of ESG “fails”.

The ESG – environmental, social, and governance – agenda for many CEOs has gone from altruism to ‘license to operate.’ ESG is the new normal. With plastic, for example, the companies affected have largely lost the narrative. The story has moved from ‘waste is bad’ to ‘plastic is bad,’ with plastic becoming the symbol for single-use excess. Corporations today need to stay out in front of the narrative before it gets hijacked and then turns their entire business model on its head. It is now sport to shame corporations and build a critical public mass to drive an agenda, so CEOs must stay hyper-attuned to the emerging issues that could pushed by stakeholders anytime.

6. Adapting to “shop local” as a possible new reality for supply chains.

Most multinational corporations have set up their supply chains to be truly global, but the 25-year business model developed around free trade and the frictionless movement of goods is now under real threat through trade disputes and protectionist policies. Companies are trying to assess whether this is merely a Trump administration blip or a new era of global protectionism threatening their existing business models and supply chains. If this is the new reality, many companies will have to shift their business models to a more local approach, which will cost more and take time to fully adjust. Many arbitrage opportunities around labor and other costs will be lost if companies are limited to more local markets for production.

7. Bracing for stronger regulatory action.

From heightened privacy concerns around technology companies to the newly appointed CEO of Boeing Corporation saying that the company now welcomes oversight, regulators around the world are finding a new sense of power – supported by a growing populist movement and an increased disdain for the corporation. Taking on monopolies is another area of focus, as the technology space has shifted dramatically in the two decades since the DOJ took on Microsoft, a company far less of a monopolist than what exists in many areas of technology today. We’re likely to see more actions taking on monopolists to either break them up or regulate them with a much heavier hand of the law.

8. Building competitive muscle as growth gets harder.

Every CEO we have advised over the past decade would tell you that each year has been harder than the previous year to find growth. In a ‘hard growth’ economy, the only way for companies to grow is to take market share from others, but the relentless focus inward on cost-cutting and disciplines such as zero-based budgeting have made it difficult to find executives who have built enough of a competitive muscle. CEOs will need their teams to get out of their more internally focused thinking and embrace a market-based approach that is driven by calculated risk-taking and creativity.

9. Preparing now for the next synchronized global recession.

Many industrial companies have been feeling recessionary pressures for the past six to eight months, and this is a worry for many CEOs. While the consumer remains strong, there are signs of the next recession being closer rather than further away. The swing card is the 2020 election and the potential for the Trump administration to complete further rounds of a workable trade deal with China. A deal would take a considerable amount of uncertainty off the table and likely extend the expansion for a period of time.

10. Shifting from linear leadership to managing to an outcome.

Companies are increasingly moving away from the vertical corporation, with its silos and asymmetries of information and linear paths to achieving goals. In today’s highly matrixed organization, executives must also lead horizontally, working with others and collaborating in a way that requires a lot more range to their leadership toolkits. They must consider the direct and indirect constituencies that will influence their strategic objectives. We have moved away from linear ‘Point A to Point B’ leadership – it is now about managing to an outcome.

“What all these actions have in common is a hypervigilance to external factors,” says Miles. “The always-on, 360-degree CEO who takes in input from everywhere and adapts quickly is the one who will outperform.”

Strategies

3 Rules to provide seamless customer experience

Customer experience is a silent game-changer set to regain customer inflow, especially for businesses or companies who had to move away from physical, on-ground set ups. While this experience was initially designed to just provide support or troubleshoot problems for customers, it has now evolved into a deeper and dynamic understanding of what customers go through–especially during this time.

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With the shift towards the digital marketplace last year, both businesses and their respective customers are going to continue working and interacting remotely in 2021. With that comes a very important aspect – ventures should definitely place emphasis on a seamless customer experience. 

Customer experience is a silent game-changer set to regain customer inflow, especially for businesses or companies who had to move away from physical, on-ground set ups. While this experience was initially designed to just provide support or troubleshoot problems for customers, it has now evolved into a deeper and dynamic understanding of what customers go through–especially during this time.

Customer feedback, in addition, has provided crucial insights and points of action for businesses to integrate as they build experiences that can adapt to each customer’s needs.

“Designing experiences for customers now requires a more deliberate and ever-evolving approach, entailing precision, customization, and thoughtful details,” said Regional Vice President Rajiv M.Dhand from TELUS International, a leading digital solutions and customer experience (CX) provider.

“At a time like this, when companies like ours have access to insights from customer feedback, we treat them as a valuable stimulant to adapt to as we create a more personalized and unique experience for each customer, which is our goal for each and every interaction,” Dhand explained.  

Undeniably, digital platforms have given the much-needed flexibility for customers during this time. As these platforms are here to stay, TELUS International Philippines shares these three important learnings on customer experience that can help businesses improve how customers experience their brands in the current situation and for the years to come. 

1. Being digital-first should put a premium on data privacy and security

The swift migration of businesses to digital solutions heightened the focus on immediate accessibility and user experience; however, it can also leave loopholes in data security if done in      haste. This movement paved the way for leaders in tech and CX to stress the need for firms to ensure that they have the proper IT and data security systems and tools to ensure that data and transactions are always secure. 

With adaptation now more settled for companies, setting standards and stricter systems on oversight for remote work should be the next priority to ensure longevity when investing in these tech solutions.

2. Remote or hybrid set-ups demonstrate the power of cloud

Applying remote work set-ups happened faster than expected even with the limitation of stable internet infrastructure in the Philippines. Businesses were able to continue and adjust with the enforcement of skeletal capacity in workplaces with the aid of cloud-enabled platforms.

Cloud solutions paved the way for smoother transitions and collaborations for users in different locations. This has become instrumental for companies who are designing their way forward. Even traditional businesses who are new to this kind of work, now improve process flows with the real time updates they get from operations managed by the cloud technology. These significant improvements have ushered in efficient ways of working, which will be here to stay.

3. Conveying empathy and transparency through digital channels are an edge

Minimiz     ing face-to-face interaction and boosting virtual ones does not mean losing empathetic forms of communications. In times of crisis, silence or canned responses may seem impersonal or out of touch leading to customers’ disinterest or worse, mistrust. 

Companies need to level with that by bringing the same personal experience and empathetic messaging to any channel available to its customers. This comes with being more transparent on what companies can offer, as well as what their limitations are, during this time. It helps manage customers’ expectations and lead them to proper channels where they can be serviced better. 

“Through these learnings, we are able to go beyond simply delivering easy, real-time support to our customers. There is another layer of care and thoughtfulness that we add in the overall experience. While that might seem intangible, it makes a great difference,” said Dhand.

Technologies will become more advanced as tech and CX experts in companies like TELUS International Philippines relentlessly find ways to bridge needs through digital solutions.

For TELUS International Philippines, their commitment to providing world-class customer experiences will create a sustained evolution as more people rely on digital solutions as the world continues to transition and learn from the wave of experiences that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about.

Dhand added, “In the years to come, the surge of innovations and omnichannel solutions will continue to define how customers experience different brands, but one thing that will remain constant is how, as a company, we can show our care and dedication as we design human-centric customer experiences.”

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Strategies

Workplace study during pandemic finds managers should talk less, listen more

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

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Photoo by Vana Ash from Unsplash.com

Workplace communication often took a back seat this past year, as employees and employers rushed to work remotely, struggled with technology barriers and adjusted to physical distancing. But the pandemic has resulted in valuable lessons for communicating on the job, according to a Baylor University study.

During the onset of COVID-19 — along with accompanying layoffs and a recession — “there likely has never been a moment with such demand for ethical listening to employees,” said lead author Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor.

“Ethical listening” was defined by one communication manager as “listening with an open mind and being able to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Strategic listening is then taking the good and the bad and the ugly and knowing how to use the information.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Communication Management, researchers interviewed 30 communication professionals in the District of Columbia and 13 states in the USA: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Interviewees represented technology, financial and legal services, food and beverage, hospitality, energy, health care, trade associations, transportation, higher education and consultants.

The professionals interviewed stressed the importance of protecting confidentiality so employees feel comfortable giving feedback and do not fear retribution.

When COVID-19 hit and workers often no longer shared physical quarters, the use of Zoom soared, whether for large group meetings or one-on-one sessions, researchers noted. And while senior managers valued communication, it became less of a priority as companies made such quick changes as mandated quarantines.

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

“We heard that the pandemic posed challenges in internal communication due to the alienation many employees experienced, and it prompted us to reevaluate the moral responsibility communications holds for keeping employees feeling connected to their teams,” said co-researcher Shannon A. Bowen, Ph.D., professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of South Carolina.

The study shed light on companies’ challenges, how they strove to meet them and how they might use those strategies in the future.

For example, a communication manager for a trade association of the hospitality industry said that its members also are primary stakeholders in their companies.

“There were stakeholders who were saying, ‘I’m going to have to close my doors. Please do something.’ And there’s only so much we can do. It called for a different type of empathetic listening. This is these people’s livelihood. In hospitality, that’s like any business owner, that’s their baby. But it’s not just their baby. It’s a baby that generates income for the employees they deeply care about. It’s not just that it impacts them; it impacts their employees, which is a double cut to the heart.”

Meanwhile, a communication manager in health care encouraged senior leaders to schedule 30-minute “walk-around” sessions — whether masked and in person or via technology.

“Trust has to be built with actions and follow-through, not just words,” Bowen said.

For all the organizations studied, “the desire and follow-through to ethically listen to employees appeared to be a challenge,” Neill said.

Most participants said the ratio of management messaging to employees compared to feedback was lopsided, with far more talking than listening.

“We cannot promise we are going to fix everything,” said a communication manager in the financial services industry. “But we have the mantra if you are asking for feedback, it is critical that you close the loop and say that.”

Communications managers often have limited staff to analyze feedback. They also contend with a lack of communication between departments, especially in larger organizations.

To solve those problems, some communications professionals suggested having a team member to sit in on department meetings and serve as a liaison. One professional in a law firm said she makes it a point to invite the less vocal members to share their thoughts, while another uses on-on-one meetings for them.

“They open up a lot more when it’s just one on one,” she said. “In groups, large groups, they do not speak as freely, because there’s a hierarchy. If the older, more senior people are not saying anything, then the younger less seasoned attorneys more than likely will not say anything.”

Some internal communicators also said that during the pandemic, they saw a need for shorter, more focused meetings, in part to cut down on stress. And one consultant said that more visual communications, such as videos and video conferencing, seemed to help employees feel that they are cared for.

“I’m making sure that I have my eyes trained on the screen on the facial expressions,” said a communication manager for a trade association. “Part of active listening is also looking for visual cues of the reactions of your colleagues.”

Neill said the researchers were encouraged by the heightened level of empathy for the impact of organizational decisions on employees’ lives.

“We recommend that senior leadership and communication professionals seek ways to continue to improve moral sensitivity well after the global pandemic has receded, which can lead to more ethical decision-making,” she said.

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Strategies

The market advantage of a feminine brand name

What do iconic brands Nike, Coca-Cola, and Disney have in common? They all have linguistically feminine names. In fact, the highest-ranking companies on Interbrand’s Global Top Brands list for the past twenty years have, on average, more feminine names than lower-ranked companies.

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Researchers from University of Calgary, University of Montana, HEC Paris, and University of Cincinnati published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that explores the linguistic aspects of a name that can influence brand perceptions without people even realizing it.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Is Nestlé a Lady? The Feminine Brand Name Advantage” and is authored by Ruth Pogacar, Justin Angle, Tina Lowrey, L. J. Shrum, and Frank Kardes.

What do iconic brands Nike, Coca-Cola, and Disney have in common? They all have linguistically feminine names. In fact, the highest-ranking companies on Interbrand’s Global Top Brands list for the past twenty years have, on average, more feminine names than lower-ranked companies. How can you tell if a name is linguistically feminine? Easy–does it have two or more syllables and stress on the second or later syllable? Does it end in a vowel? If so, then it is a feminine name. Linguistically feminine names convey “warmth” (good-natured sincerity), which makes people like them better than less feminine names.

A brand’s name is incredibly important. In most cases, the name is the first thing consumers learn about a brand. And a brand’s name does the work of communicating what the brand represents. For instance, Lean Cuisine conveys the product’s purpose. Others, like Reese’s’ Pieces, have rhyming names that promise whimsy and fun. Making a good first impression is critical, so it is not surprising that the market for brand naming services is booming. Boutique naming fees can run as much as $5,000 – $10,000 per letter for brand names in high-stakes product categories like automobiles and technology.

Specifically, the number of syllables in a name, which syllable is stressed, and the ending sound, all convey masculine or feminine gender. People automatically associate name length, stress, and ending sound with men’s or women’s names because most people’s names follow certain rules. Women’s names tend to be longer, have more syllables, have stress on the second or later syllable, and end with a vowel (e.g., Amánda). Men’s names tend to be shorter with one stressed syllable, or with stress on the first of two syllables, and end in a consonant (e.g., Éd or Édward).

We often relate to brands like people–we love them, we hate them, we are loyal to certain brands but sometimes we cheat. We associate brands with masculine or feminine traits based on the linguistic cues in the name. So, attributes associated with gender – like warmth – become attached to a brand because of its name. “Warmth” is the quality of being good-natured, tolerant, and sincere. Researchers believe that warmth is incredibly important because deep in our evolutionary past, primitive people had to make a quick, critical judgment whenever they encountered someone new–is this stranger a threat or not? In other words–is this stranger dangerous or warm? If the newcomer was not warm, then a fight or flight decision might be called for. People still rely on warmth judgments every day to decide whether someone will be a good partner, employee, or friend.

So, it is no surprise that warmth is an important characteristic of brand personality. And because linguistically feminine names convey warmth, features like ending in a vowel are advantageous for brand names. As Pogacar explains, “We find that linguistically feminine brand names are perceived as warmer and are therefore better liked and more frequently chosen, an effect we term the Feminine Brand Name Advantage.”

But does all this matter in terms of dollars and cents? Yes, according to the Interbrand Global Top Brand rankings, which is based on brand performance and strength. Angle says that “By analyzing the linguistic properties of each name on Interbrand’s lists for the past twenty years, we find that brands with linguistically feminine names are more likely to make the list. And even more, the higher ranked a brand is, the more likely it is to have a linguistically feminine name.”

After observing this feminine brand name advantage, the researchers conducted a series of experiments to better understand what is happening. Participants reported that brands with linguistically feminine names seemed warmer and this increased their purchase intentions. This pattern occurred with well-known brands and made-up brands that study participants had no prior experience with.

There are limitations to the feminine brand name advantage. When a product is specifically targeted to a male audience (e.g., men’s sneakers), masculine and feminine brand names are equally well-liked. Furthermore, people like linguistically feminine names for hedonic products, like chocolate, but may prefer masculine names for strictly functional products like bathroom scales.

It is important to note that results may vary based on the linguistic patterns of name gender in the target market country. Lowrey summarizes the study’s insights by saying “We suggest that brand managers consider linguistically feminine names when designing new brand names, particularly for hedonic products.”

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