CCOs on Building Corporate Character: More Work to be Done

May 22, Marcia DiStaso

In today's always-on, hyper-transparent, digitally connected world, it is becoming progressively more crucial that CCOs prepare enterprises for reputational challenges by building corporate character. The Page Society defines corporate character as the unique identity that distinguishes each enterprise—the characteristics that define its very nature. This character is manifested when an enterprise's mission, purpose, values, culture, strategy and business model are defined, aligned and activated across the enterprise.

While the approach may vary from one organization to the next, there is a considerable sense among senior communicators that cultivating and activating corporate character is an increasingly essential element of successful enterprise leadership. A little more than a year ago, the Corporate Character Subcommittee of Page Thought Leadership conducted an in-depth survey of Page and Page Up members from 70 different organizations to understand corporate character in their respective organizations. Just over three-quarters of respondents reported that theirs had a defined corporate character, but many indicated that there was also much work to be done.

That said, we found that focusing on corporate character appears to be gaining prevalence in organizations.

  • 73% of respondents had examined or redefined their mission/vision/purpose in the past three years, and 43% had done so in the past year;
  • 67% had examined or redefined their values/principles/beliefs in the past three years, and 36% had done so in the past year; and
  • More than one-quarter indicated their organization needs to examine or redefine corporate character.

Overall, 30% of respondents indicated that their organization was in good shape with respect to corporate character, but 28% had only defined it and were still working to activate and/or align it. Additionally, 13% indicated that they needed more buy-in from their C-Suite colleagues to define corporate character before moving forward.

For those who had revisited corporate character recently, the process of examination or redefinition was most commonly a senior management-led process where the CEO was integrally involved. Some of the biggest challenges cited included "getting the semantics right"; "ensuring buy-in or consensus at all levels"; "aligning with business strategy"; and "keeping it simple and relevant."

It was interesting to see that the definition of "mission/vision/purpose" (we listed all of these terms in the survey to account for organizations' differing terminology) was most often viewed as being aligned with business strategy, customer relationships and social responsibility. "Values/principles/beliefs" was most often aligned with treatment of employees, customer relationships and recognition programs. While the data don't allow for a definitive explanation of this alignment, it may be due to mission, vision and purpose being oriented to business activity – hence the relationship to strategy, customers relationships, and social responsibility – whereas values, principles and beliefs pertain to how the enterprise's employees behave. This might explain why "customer relationships" was reported as aligning with both, since it cuts across a business's strategy and how it treats stakeholders.

We also found that corporate character was more likely to be defined in companies versus agencies, in global enterprises versus domestic ones, in business-to-consumer versus business-to-business companies, and in companies with more than 100 employees.

Our findings are not statistically significant due to the limited sample size of Page and Page Up members. Nevertheless, we observed that some industries appeared to be less inclined to have a defined corporate character – which likely explains why only 30% reported being in good shape in this area. Specifically, all respondents from both the consumer packaged goods and telecommunications industries indicated that their organizations have a defined corporate character, but many of those in the technology, food & beverage, healthcare/pharmaceutical, financial services, and energy indicated that their companies still needed to define theirs.

The Page Society is embarking on a new project that builds on this work by seeking to understand how enterprises are thinking about, and building their businesses around their corporate purpose. While much progress has been made, there is more that we will seek to understand about how character and purpose drive enterprise success.
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