Ryan Cudney is Edelman’s Pacific Northwest General Manager and US Lead for Business Transformation. A ten-year veteran of the agency, he counsels clients through enterprise changes, including portfolio realignment and expansion, turnarounds and recoveries, and business repositioning. He is based in Seattle.

Bella Trouw is a Senior Account Supervisor focusing on business transformation and employee experience. She is based in Chicago.

For business, change remains the only constant. However, the manner in which organizations communicate in the face of change has evolved into a competitive advantage. Disruptive changes spanning various sectors and geographies such as remote work, digital and technological innovations, new and changing regulations, geopolitical shifts, and societal dynamics are forcing business leaders to pursue perpetual transformation to proactively manage their reputation, ensure relevancy, and protect their license to operate.

According to an Innosight study, the average tenure of S&P 500 companies is projected to decrease to 15–20 years from the 30–35-year mark of the late 1970s. This accelerating turnover rate urges companies not only to fend off disruption but also to unlock novel value by pursuing more than one form of transformation. There are three common types of transformations: organizational shifts that seize new opportunities through proactive changes in business models, turnarounds to combat operational challenges, and financial maneuvers, including portfolio expansion and realignment.

However, many businesses are still failing to successfully complete their transformation efforts.

So, how can business transformations succeed?

A key finding from Edelman’s 2023 The Future of Corporate Communications study, involving 200+ CCOs and communications leaders from leading US and global brands, reveals that CEOs and Boards are recognizing the need to adopt a human-centric approach to business transformation by positioning communicators as central figures and strategic partners.

The study finds that half of today’s CCOs consider themselves to be strategic advisors, an improvement compared to just over a third (35%) two years ago. Moreover, the proportion of CCOs viewing their function as responsive and/or reactive has declined by 20 points to 10%.

This illustrates the fact that communicators are now, more than ever, being brought in earlier to inform CEOs ahead of decisions regarding when and how to shift employee behaviors and mindsets to align with new strategic priorities. And those who are most successful are proactively integrating the needs of their most important stakeholders – employees – in all steps of the problem-solving process. A Harvard Business Review study corroborates Edelman’s findings that when businesses listen with intention and match the engagement of their employees, they are more likely to achieve transformational success.

Based on our experience counseling clients through transformational moments, we have identified four key strategies adopted by the most successful executive leaders:

  1. Ensure clear communication. Initiate transparent employee experience and communications campaigns. To do so, synthesize and simplify internal and external drivers and voices to deliver a unified vision and narrative that resonates with all employees. This means sharing both the good and bad news early and often, as well as clearly stating the “why” and “what’s in it for me” every step of the way.
  2. Maintain a positive and supportive work environment. Translate the transformation strategy into a human-centric vision, with employees at the center. For example, build an internal culture change program with employee ambassadors focused on widespread adoption of the chosen norms, values, and behaviors aligned to an organization’s mission. This will not only lead to a work environment that promotes a positive change mindset, but ultimately stronger business outcomes.
  3. Provide opportunities for feedback and employee voice. Incorporate opportunities for employee feedback and input in stakeholder journey design. This might involve conducting routine pulse check or trust surveys with the option for open-ended responses, as well as organizing experiential events or town hall sessions. Gathering real-time feedback and data from stakeholders will help measure campaign impact and effectiveness, and ultimately better inform what and how to communicate.
  4. Foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. Understand and assess the various stakeholder mindsets, beliefs, and motivations present in a workplace. In practice, this may involve conducting a communications and behavioral audit to inform the development of persona and empathy maps. Mapping this information can help pinpoint the critical moments and factors that lead to a positive relationship in stakeholders’ transformation journeys.

With business transformation showing no signs of slowing down, companies must take an action-oriented approach to transformation. To drive successful outcomes in an uncertain environment, we anticipate that executive leaders will continue to look to communications leaders as critical strategic partners.