ITL #150 Best person for the corporate affairs job: why instinct matters as much as intellect

4 years, 8 months ago

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Corporate affairs is an increasingly influential and demanding role. All the more reason to think very carefully when recruiting to the team. By Sue Foley.



It is good to read how we are seeing the rise and rise of people in the Corporate Affairs position. All of us will have been in countless meetings where it’s the Corporate Affairs Executive who suddenly calms the room with a few well-chosen words that can actually be summed up by two words – common sense.

The question I put to everyone is how we ensure the right people with the right instincts are hired in the first place into the Corporate Affairs area. I had one boss who was straight up and said the only type of person he wanted was someone with numerous battle scars”. He didn’t care what university they had been to or how many letters they had after their name or how many connections they had on LinkedIn. It was all about the experiences they had been through and situations they had dealt with.

How do you choose the right person? But more importantly, what are we all doing to foster succession and choose right at the start those who are going to be the leaders in the reputation war rooms across the globe?

Too often I see the job positions that list some extremely prescriptive criteria that fit a certain stereotype. While it means less time in the interview process as 80 per cent will be excluded straightaway, are we turning away our potential best?

There is no doubt the issues we are dealing with today are becoming more complex, more complicated and thanks to the growing range and users of social media, cut deep and wide in a matter of seconds.

Exceptional emotional quotient

So aside from intellectual grunt, the people we need are those with courage, resilience, and an EQ that rates off the planet.

I am sure like me you are often asked what your job entails. Unlike legal, or HR, in Corporate Affairs there are no real defined boundaries. You are there to organise the celebrations when things go well, then when it turns ugly you are the one that also has to ensure there is still an organisation around that can celebrate after disaster strikes.

I look at some of what I had to deal with just today. An interview with the CEO between a well-known journalist eager for something the others hadn’t got yet, so you look at what you can release that won’t upset others that someone else got it first, but creates enough excitement to keep the journo happy.

 

Then there was the social media issue where the boyfriend (now ex) of a staff member had somehow been able to attend an internal meeting and had then posted comments on Facebook.

Did I mention the technical hitch that fortunately was corrected before it impacted a million plus customers?

Back in the day

There was a time of grace where often the career path was you did your time as a journalist, moved into communication and in no time at all were the closest confidante of the C-suite. Now there are many moving parts and bodies.

Flexibility and resilience to deal with constant change most probably matters as much as being able to understand a balance sheet for the annual results. Knowing the health and safety risks of being a Board Director and why they are so interested in how you are dealing with reputational matters is also high up on the capability list.

Taking on the wrong people can be costly and getting rid of them even more so. However, I believe with the growing complexity of business today there is a need to look beyond the normal stereotype to bring into corporate affairs. You need people quick on their feet, resilient, calm under pressure…but with enough gravitas that the senior management team will take them seriously.

That person may therefore come from a very non-traditional source, in fact may already exist in your company now. You have commented on their attitude and agility but have not given a second thought to bringing them on board.

My final comment, think again. It may be the best reputational decision you make.

 

About the author

Sue Foley is Director Corporate Affairs, Westpac New Zealand. She joined the Westpac Executive Team in March 2010 and is responsible for the delivery of the organisation's reputation management, including media, government relations, sustainability, community, sponsorship and internal communications.  Her strong interest in the community is shown through her work as Chairperson of the Sir Peter Blake Trust and her position on the Board of the iSport Foundation.


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The Author

Sue Foley

Sue Foley is Director Corporate Affairs, Westpac New Zealand. She joined the Westpac Executive Team in March 2010 and is responsible for the delivery of the organisation's reputation management, including media, government relations, sustainability, community, sponsorship and internal communications. Her strong interest in the community is shown through her work as Chairperson of the Sir Peter Blake Trust and her position on the Board of the iSport Foundation.

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