NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In times of crisis, opinion elites want corporate leaders who are accountable, honest and can deliver on promises. And surprisingly, they are putting less weight on desiring leaders with previous experience handling crises.
Eighty-nine percent of U.S. opinion elites, those who are highly informed and regularly participate in influential behaviors in both traditional and non-traditional media, view accountability as a very important trait senior leaders should have when dealing with a crisis; 86 percent said it’s very important that leaders are honest and 79 percent say the same for the ability to deliver on promises in a crisis situation, according to a Global Street FightTM Study conducted for G&S Business Communications by Harris Poll.
According to the study, 37 percent of opinion elites believe senior leadership at large companies is weaker today than five years ago, which represents a 14 percentage point jump over last year. Of this same group, 56 percent said senior leadership is now more focused on short-term goals compared to five years ago, which is an 18 point surplus over the general population (38 percent). Only 9 percent of opinion elites said leadership is focused on long-term goals, which is virtually unchanged from last year.
G&S and Harris Poll, a leading global provider of information and insights to aid business decisions, joined forces three years ago to conduct annual research on public perceptions of corporate leadership in today’s environment, focusing on the areas of boldness, innovation and trust. This year’s online poll was conducted between Feb. 20-25, 2015 among 2,030 U.S. adults age 18 and older.
“Today’s CEOs seem to be in a state of constant reputational triage, from managing earnings expectations to competitive differentiation to being accountable for what their employees say on social media,” said Steve Halsey, principal and managing director, business consulting, G&S Business Communications. “As a result, we’re seeing a more nontraditional type of executive emerging. And it’s the opinion elites’ attitudes that are helping fuel some of these unexpected or ‘dark horse’ CEO appointments of late.”
Cases in point:
- In February, Honda Motor Co., which struggled through a multi-year global financial crisis and quality issues, tapped a little known engineer as its new chief executive. Takahiro Hachigo skipped several ranks in his promotion to CEO and is the company’s first non-director to take the seat.
- In January, facing declining sales, McDonald’s reached into the brand department and named Steve Easterbrook as the company’s new CEO. He is known for re-energizing the McDonald’s brand in the Europe and has spent most of his career overseas.
- Last year, Mary Barra became the CEO of General Motors amidst massive recalls and a struggling reputation. She is the first woman appointed CEO of any of the big three automakers, and in another rarity, is a second generation GMer who was promoted from within the same company she has worked for since she was 18 years old.
When asked what characteristics make someone a bold leader, opinion elites increased their selection of “risk-taker” from 54 to 73 percent in one year and “daring” from 43 to 53 percent in one year. One could argue that in their recent choices of CEOs, boards of directors are emulating the characteristics they want to see in their new leadership.
“Opinion elites have decidedly fallen off the fence and are more likely to view senior leadership at large companies weaker today than five years ago,” said Carol Gstalder, SVP, practice leader, Reputation & Public Relations Solutions at Harris Poll. “Additionally, there was a significant decline in the percentage of opinion elites who view senior leadership today as innovative dropping from 66 to 55 percent. A challenge for today’s corporate leaders is how best to balance everyday crisis and risk management with the necessity to drive innovation.”
With this new kind of leader in the c-suite, what implication does it have for business communicators?
“The table is set,” said Halsey. “It’s now about counseling this new breed of CEO that they must constantly look at things from multiple perspectives. Every decision they make has the potential to benefit one group, while having unintended consequences on another. And in today’s always-on traditional and social media world, vocal critics are everywhere and effective reputation management matters now, more than ever… because it can be lost in an instant.”
Summary of findings:
- Opinion elites rated the following characteristics as very important when dealing with crises: Accountability at 89 percent, honesty at 86 percent and delivers on promises at 79 percent.
- The characteristics opinion elites are least likely to describe as very important when dealing with a crisis are innovation at 49 percent and prior crisis experience at 50 percent.
- Thirty-seven percent of opinion elites believe leadership at large companies is weaker today than five years ago, compared to 23 percent last year.
- Fifty-six percent of opinion elites said senior leadership at large companies is more focused on short-term goals and only nine percent said leadership is more focused on long-term goals. Similarly, nine percent of the general public said that senior leadership is more focused on long-term goals. Thirty eight percent of the general public believes that leadership is more focused on short-term goals.
- Over the last two years, the opinion elites and general public have been split over whether the main priority of a CEO of a medium to large company is to be a successful risk manager or to be bold and innovative. A modern CEO is expected to be both.
To obtain a summary of the Global Street Fight Study and view supplemental content, please visit the G&S Business Communications website.
The Global Street Fight™ Study
This survey was conducted online within the United States from Feb. 20-24, 2015 among 2,030 adults ages 18 and older, among whom 295 qualified as Opinion Elites, by Harris Poll on behalf of G&S Business Communications via its Quick Query omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
About The Harris Poll
Over the last 5 decades, Harris Polls have become media staples. With comprehensive experience and precise technique in public opinion polling, along with a proven track record of uncovering consumers’ motivations and behaviors, The Harris Poll has gained strong brand recognition around the world. The Harris Poll offers a diverse portfolio of proprietary client solutions to transform relevant insights into actionable foresight for a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer packaged goods. Contact us for more information.
About G&S Business Communications
G&S Business Communications is an independent business communications firm with headquarters in New York and offices in Chicago, Raleigh, N.C., and Basel, Switzerland. The firm’s global network extends across more than 50 countries through its PROI Worldwide partnership. G&S integrates business and communications strategies, using a full range of communications services, to build sustainable relationships for clients along the entire value chain. We inspire action that drives results. For more information, please visit www.gscommunications.com.