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01 Feb. 2018 | Comments (0)

The Conference Board recently released C-Suite Challenge™ 2018: Reinventing the Organization for the Digital Age. The research is the latest edition of the annual survey, which this year was expanded beyond CEOs to include responses from C-suite executives. The survey asked leaders how they intend to meet six core business challenges: Human Capital, Innovation, Operational Excellence, Customer Relationships/Corporate Brand and Reputation, Regulation and Risk, and Sustainability. The insights for communicators, marketers, and digital media executives are extensive. We’ll explore some of those here.

According to the report, “To meet the digital transformation challenge, our CEO respondents are focused on building leadership teams of strategic thinkers who are adaptable, entrepreneurial, and capable of inspiring employees. They are dedicated to the creation of innovative, customer-centric, and inclusive workplace environments within their organizations.”

There is a lot to unpack in those two sentences, not least the fact that clearly corporate leaders are looking for teams that can think strategically, indicating the need for communicators to consider how they can contribute to growth in the business, not simply operate as a support function. That opportunity might come from the fact that CEOs want leaders who are “capable of inspiring employees,” and who are dedicated to creating “inclusive workplace environments within their organizations.” Additionally, the report states: “A truly agile organization is built on a foundation of effective change leadership, employee resilience, and an open, transparent, speak-up culture supported by a world-class data analytics function.”

Achieving these aspirational goals will fall heavily to the communications and marketing functions because “culture rules.” Communicators are responsible for nurturing the type of culture in which employees can voice their opinions and speak up with ideas or issues.


The report also has a nod to the fact that communicators must become more data savvy and start to make strategic decisions based on the vast expanses of information now at their fingertips. Such information can come into the organization through communications-led technologies such as social media, but also via any number of other business functions. Take, for example, a utility company that is installing smart meters to customers to learn more about usage patterns, or a logistics company that collects fleet data to optimize routes. The fact that data permeates so many functions means that for communicators to become more strategic, they need to be forging partnerships across the organization, as well as equipping their teams with experts who can make sense of the information coming in.


The survey asked CEOs and C-suite executives to identify the top five traits, competencies, and characteristics they believe are most critical to becoming a truly agile organization. For CEOs in particular, communications comprise a large portion of the top five, with an open and transparent speak-up culture ranked number three, and communicate effectively from all levels; communicate consistently and transparently ranked number four (note that CFOs ranked this as number one).

We’re at a critical juncture socially and technologically. Companies are democratizing as employees, customers, and other stakeholders find their voices. At the same time, companies need to be agile in order to respond to these changing social and technological dynamics. Communicators need to step out of the shadows and show the strategic value they can bring to an organization by understanding these challenges and using their skills to help companies respond.

Members of The Conference Board can download C-Suite Challenge™ 2018: Reinventing the Organization for the Digital Age. For non-members, an executive summary is available free of charge. Please share your reflections on this year’s research in the comments or by submitting a guest post for consideration to

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

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