If CEOs are to successfully execute on the big strategic changes they need to make, they must first gain the trust of employees, customers and investors. Without the backing and support of those stakeholders, organisations are going to flounder and lose their way in increasingly competitive global markets.  
This was a key theme running through both days of Criticaleye’s CEO Retreat 2019, held in association with Accenture Strategy, E.ON UK, Brewin Dolphin and Pinsent Masons. “CEOs regularly fall into the trap of being consumed by operations. The problem here is that they can then fail to make the time to build relationships with key stakeholders,” said Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye.
“However, it’s a simple fact that, managing both your external and internal stakeholders is vitally important if you’re going to succeed as a Chief Executive, particularly when the tolerance for perceived failures remains frighteningly low.” 
According to a poll taken on Day 1 of the Retreat, 78 percent of attendees said their business model needed to radically change over the next five years. Peter Lacy, Senior Managing Director at Accenture Strategy, commented: “There is massive disruption taking place in multiple industries, and those who lack the trust of their stakeholders are falling behind in terms of competitiveness.” 
From the perspective of external stakeholders, the way an organisation conducts business – including its social or environmental impact – will become increasingly important. “We need to look at the intersections – how growth and profitability intersect with trust,” he said. 
The extent of the changes that are underway also require a CEO to know how to empathise, listen and engage with internal stakeholders too. “Employees need to have faith in CEOs and senior executives during this period of uncertainty,” Peter added. “They want to know where they are heading and that steps will be taken to help them reskill and pivot to the new.  
“With the right communication, people can see that they can benefit from new technologies and be at the heart of the revolution we are about to see in areas like AI.”
CEOs and senior executives must think through how transformation is articulated. Nigyar Makhmudova, Global Lead of Strategic Projects at Mars, said: "If you start re-framing change – from a burning platform into being about the evolution of your business to be fit for the future – you will unleash a new kind of energy within the organisation. 
“It creates a different mindset and frame of reference. Most people will regard evolution as progressive and good." 
In Nigyar’s experience, “there is no danger of over-communicating when you are driving change; it needs to be constant, consistent and authentic”. She explained: “As a leader, you have to keep in mind that your actions mean more than your words. In times of change people are especially sensitive and can immediately spot inconsistencies and misalignment between what they hear and what they see. Walk the talk – always. 
“Resilience is crucial, because there will be setbacks and moments of doubt. It’s important to stay on course, stick to your purpose, stay true to your values, keep learning and to adjust your tactics as you progress with the change programme.” 
Matthew Lester, NED for Barclays and a Criticaleye Board Mentor, noted how the Chair and independent directors also have a role to play in ensuring executives are aligned on how they are executing on the strategy: “Boards must ask the question: ‘Are the actions that executives are taking consistent with their communication?’ Not every single piece of communication is going to be perfect – if it is, you won’t be authentic, and you’ll sound like something out of 1984. 
“So, the key thing Boards are looking for is evidence that actions are consistent with the messaging.” 
If there is alignment in the top team, as well as the Boardroom, on values, purpose and strategy, then an organisation has a much better chance of staying competitive over the medium to long-term.  
Peter summed up the reality for CEOs when he said: “It will be essential to build the trust of shareholders, customers, employees and other stakeholders as we reinvent our businesses.” 

Marc Barber, Managing Editor, Criticaleye

Other poll results from the Criticaleye CEO Retreat 2019:  
  • 89 percent said a lack of leadership capability is a barrier to growth in their organisation
  • 39 percent said their executive team does not have the ability to execute on the medium to long-term strategy
  • 81 percent said they are confident that new technology, such as AI and automation, will significantly improve business performance over the next 5 years
  • 84 percent said that ‘purpose’ is a core element of their business strategy