I’d rather have the courage of your convictions
04 November, 2013
Christy Stewart-Smith, The Gate Managing Director, on stakeholder management.
Years ago I ran the global advertising account for a huge multinational company.
It was my first experience of ‘stakeholder engagement’ on a global and massive scale.
The company prided itself on being a ‘consensus culture’.
So two dozen plus people had to sign-off on the global corporate ad campaign.
Since these were senior executives who thought their daily dollar unearned unless they had ‘added value’ to the things on which they were consulted, this was something of a challenge.
But I found a neat way round the problem.
It turned out that these senior people had one concern greater than the need to add their own twopenny-worth to the process.
They were extremely concerned to know how their peers were voting.
Having read “The Righteous Mind” by the wonderful Jonathan Haidt, I know why this is.
Actually we rely more than we would care to admit on the opinions of others, rather than our own judgement.
We use our peer group – the people whose approval enhances our status and self-image and whose censure has the opposite effect – as a sounding board for our own sentiments. More often than not we’ll change our mind to ensure our views fit the consensus, whilst all the time persuading ourselves that we are masters of our own mind and others merely agree with our common-sense view of our surroundings.
Which made my task considerably easier.
“Nigel, I’d love your view on these new commercials we’re proposing”, I’d begin, “I showed them to Colin in Kuala Lumpur last week and he said they were a breakthrough for a company like ours”.
“Yes, It’s about time we stood up for what we believe”, Nigel would agree.
The following week I would talk to Simon,
“Nigel says it’s time we stood up for what we believe”, I said.
“Quite right,” says Simon, “And the way you’ve used our people in the commercial lends it great credibility”
“Simon says using your people in the commercial lends it great credibility”, I’d tell the next guy.
Eventually, I would actually go and see Colin in Kuala Lumpur, with everyone’s feedback in my bag (and with a bit of a lump in my throat).
Every time, after hearing the opinions of his peers, Colin would say – entirely of his own volition,
“This kind of thing is a breakthrough for a company like ours”.
I know you’ll think me underhand and deceptive. But these individuals – 90% of whom knew next to nothing about creating commercials – were genuinely delighted with the decisions they had taken.
And because skilful and talented creative people had crafted the ads in good faith to a brief written by a planner who cared about the company’s commercial success, everything ended extremely happily ever after.