This article was previously featured on Forbes.


In some ways, the job of today’s CEO is virtually incomparable to their predecessors who ran companies in past decades. Workplace tensions related to the global pandemic and increasing expectations for engaging on an unrelenting series of social and geopolitical issues have made the role more complex than arguably any time in modern history.

Not surprisingly, some senior executives are falling short of meeting these changing leadership requirements. Recent high-profile CEO exits at companies such as Twitter and CrossFit and negative news cycles surrounding leadership at Activision Blizzard and McDonald’s serve as a stark reminder that under increased pressure, CEOs are resigning in record numbers, with the “topple rate” showing no signs of slowing down.

To help navigate this complex environment, CEOs are increasingly turning to one member of the C-suite for guidance: the chief communications officer (CCO). With a growing need to extend their focus on stakeholders beyond investors and customers, CEOs have become increasingly dependent on their communications leaders to help adjust to this challenging new reality. This trend is expected to remain in 2022 as CEOs continue to address a litany of pressing challenges ranging from return to the workplace and the growing war for talent to supply chain stressors, rising inflation, an expanded focus on ESG and a looming climate crisis.

In today’s world, forward-thinking CEOs are recognizing the benefits — and necessity — of engaging a wider variety of internal and external stakeholders, including the employees they are trying to retain and attract, the customers they are trying to keep happy, policymakers on both sides of the aisle, social groups advocating on any number of issues and the list goes on.

Here are a few examples of how CEOs should use communications to navigate these tumultuous waters and create resilient companies that can weather any storm and thrive in any environment:

Continue to prioritize workforce engagement.

The attention being placed on the workforce, workplace and well-being of employees due to the pandemic will not abate. Communications has also become more complicated by the increasing hybrid nature of on-site and remote working. As employee engagement and the war for talent continue to be recognized as critical to business performance, it is important to recognize employee communications as a distinct and specific skill set.

CEOs — and leaders across the enterprise — must value the unique experience, tools and resources required to create a robust employee engagement competency that demonstrates measurable business impact. CEOs can help support these initiatives by modeling effective employee engagement practices — regularly participating in town halls and small-group meetings, maintaining a pulse on employee sentiment through more continuous listening and active dialogue through internal channels and promoting other two-way communication opportunities with employees across the company.

Protect the corporate brand.

A strong corporate brand is built by the experiences that stakeholders have with your enterprise at every touchpoint. As the dividing line between a company’s products and the enterprise itself continues to blur, stakeholders have growing expectations around not just those products, but also a company’s purpose — why it exists and how it actually benefits society. ​It’s more important than ever to actively cultivate an enterprise-wide brand to meet ever-evolving expectations.

Be authentic and accountable on social issues.

Belief-driven employees, customers and shareholders are demanding increased acknowledgement of — and action on — today’s most pressing social and societal issues. CEOs must work in tandem with their communications team to establish a consistent framework that determines when the organization will and will not speak out on social issues, as well as a corresponding action plan to proactively mitigate risks. In our increasingly purpose-driven society, a CEO’s public stance on social issues must adequately and authentically embody the company’s overarching purpose, and the CCO should be in lockstep with the CEO when it comes to communicating that vision.

Align communications and marketing teams.

A rapid proliferation of available channels and the increased blurring of the lines between social media, the press and advertising have driven communications to play a bigger role in both upper-funnel and lower-funnel marketing. Competition between the two functions is natural, but organizations that have successfully bridged the comms-marketing divide report collaborative planning that acknowledges the fluidity and utility of both disciplines.

Connect communications to business outcomes.

CCOs are working across the C-suite to understand critical business objectives and develop strategies that help enable business outcomes. This requires connecting communications metrics to key business KPIs. The modern corporate communications function is agile, multidisciplinary and insights-driven. It produces concrete outcomes aligned with business strategy.

CommsTech — the communications equivalent of marketing’s MarTech — is ushering in a new emphasis on data and analytics, allowing communicators to deliver quantifiable value to the business. As the modern corporate communications function expands its mandate, it’s also important to support those new responsibilities with new resources. Nearly half of CCOs expect their budgets to remain the same or decline in the coming year, according to Edelman’s Future of Corporate Communications report. The evolved communications remits should not go underfunded.

The expectations of CEOs today have never been greater, and the stakes have never been higher, especially as recent events have accelerated the shift toward stakeholder capitalism. It’s no longer enough for CEOs to deliver strong financial results. They must now be prepared to navigate social issues just as much as they need to navigate supply chain issues. In this changing world, CEOs must rely on their communications counterparts.

Jim O’Leary U.S. Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Affairs Practice Chair.