In an era of increasing stakeholder cynicism and scrutiny of brands, corporations and leadership, effective leaders recognize early on that an intense focus on corporate authenticity is as close to the proverbial silver bullet as you can get. In my experience, during my tenure as President and CEO of The New York Times Company, I found that effective leaders and their respective corporations, recognize that defining who they are, what they stand for, how they will inform the stakeholders (consumers, shareholders and employees) and what they will promise to deliver is the critical first step to success. In short, they clearly outline their core purpose, their core values and their core promise to stakeholders. In addition, they make an unwavering commitment to constant and transparent communication and to openness to hearing honest feedback.
Execution, being the next and the most difficult step, requires that corporations consistently deliver on their brand promise, actively manage and enhance their corporate reputation, cultivate intense loyalty and trust and always recognize the power of stakeholders to help or hinder all progress. If leaders fail to relentlessly focus on these tenets of authentic leadership, their corporations risk losing the stakeholder trust and loyalty they value. The disconnect that will become evident between expectations or brand promise and experiences or brand delivery will lead to damage of the corporation’s reputation, overall brand weakness, measurable loss of market share and negative impact on financial and operational performance.
With the skyrocketing power and growth of social media, every stakeholder has the tools and the power to impact a brand’s or a corporation’s reputation and they will not hesitate to exercise that power. Insightful leaders employ a razor sharp focus on exceeding ever changing stakeholder’s expectations, on clearly and constantly communicating to and with all constituencies through all media channels and on monitoring, evaluating and following through on what is being said on all social media websites and beyond. These leaders recognize that their most important strategic imperative is to ensure that there is a seamless connection between what is expected and what is actually delivered. I am certain they also recognize that in today’s fast moving, competitive environment, if their corporations do not exceed expectations, their competitors will be well aware of this failure immediately and will strive to capture share.
When leaders commit to hearing the truth, to fully understanding honest, well informed evaluations of how well the corporation may be delivering on those expectations, they discover that this willingness to” hear the facts” results in many more benefits than one may think. This strict attention to “delivering what they paid for” will directly increase brand value and brand loyalty, accelerate product and service development and innovation, enhance the social responsibility reputation of the corporation and drives direct positive impact on bottom line performance.
Making a serious and measurable commitment to closing “The Authenticity Gap” if one does exist will be the wisest decision a leader will make. Many may say that “Deliver what they paid for” sounds like common sense but the practice may not be so common.
Janet Robinson is the former CEO of The New York Times Company; Chairwoman of the Presidential Board of Trustees of Salve Regina University and a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.