Corporate opinion is corporate agreement
So say we all

Organisations like to have opinions. A “line to take” on a particular subject.

That’s helpful because if you can make clear where you stand, people are better able to decide if they want to stand with you. Potential new customers might decide whether or not to spend money with you, if they know your views on certain issues. Potential new recruits might apply for jobs you advertise, if they know they’ll end up working with colleagues who share similar values. 

Getting opinions like this out into the world is easy enough. But there’s a huge amount of work that has to be done before you get to that stage.

Good corporate opinions work best when they’re an aggregate of thoughts from many people in the organisation. When they reflect the opinion of the organisational entity , not just the most senior leaders. 

Getting to this point requires discussion and debate and, in many cases, a willingness to compromise. You may not get it right first time, but the process of listening, articulating, sharing and refining will pay off. The larger and more complex your organisation, the harder this will be. You might have to go through many versions to reach it, and even after that the end result won’t necessarily be a static thing; it might change. 

There’s a relationship here with corporate values. The stronger and clearer your organisation’s values, the easier it will be for everyone on the team to align around particular points of view. (See a related post about writing Public Digital’s positions.)

What often actually happens

In my experience, common approaches to corporate opinion are:

  1. An opinionated CEO already has opinions, and forces them on the rest of the organisation. “This is what I think, therefore this is what our organisation will think.” 
  2. Some people in the organisation already have opinions, but the CEO or someone else in a senior role is unwilling for those opinions to become corporate policy. The opinions tend to get watered down, and end up published but sounding weak.
  3. Nobody in the organisation has any opinions that they’re willing to share publicly, so the organisation pays someone else, usually a PR agency, to come up with some opinions on their behalf. The agency is usually too far removed from the organisation to come up with anything meaningful, so they come up with something safe and predictable. When it’s published, it’s so bland that no-one pays any attention to it. The agency feels like it has delivered on the brief (which was probably too vague in the first place). The client feels like it has something it can use, but then wonders why its reputation doesn’t change.

Clarity of purpose brings about clarity of opinion

In most circumstances where I’ve seen it working well, agreement about corporate opinion happens much faster and much more organically when the organisation’s purpose and values have already been expressed clearly and simply.

The clearer you can be about what you want to achieve, the easier it is for your team to agree with those goals, and how to go about achieving them. 

Agreement reached, your corporate opinion will be easier to settle on, and easier to communicate to the outside world.

Thanks to Zara Farrar, James Pallister and Amy McNichol for reading earlier drafts of this and making it better.

Filed under: work
(9 October 2020)