Thought leadership is a topic I’ve discussed at length, but it’s an area of focus that commands much attention. While it’s usually looked at from a personal point of view, it’s very much a corporate agenda as well. Consider brands like General Electric, The Ritz-Carlton, and ESPN for example. Their corporate strategies have taken them from knowledgeable companies to de facto industry thought leaders.
Have you considered establishing a corporate thought leadership model for your company? You may be surprised to learn about the many internal and external benefits.
What is Corporate Thought Leadership?
Interestingly enough, there’s no single definition for thought leadership. It encompasses so much and varies from person to person. But, because I’m so interested in the idea, I’ve found it helpful to develop my own definition for it. I believe a thought leader is an individual who is recognized as the leading authority figure in an industry and profits from its position. By no means is this a complete or accurate definition, but it’s how I tend to think of it.
You’ll notice that I chose to include the word “individual” and that’s because I view personal and corporate thought leadership as distinct, though similar. The corporate side involves an organization made up of multiple thought leaders agreeing on the same values and beliefs. This form of leadership is much harder than your typical ‘personal’ thought leadership, yet has the potential for even more beneficial results.
Corporate thought leadership, while hard to develop and implement, can provide enormous internal and external benefits. When properly executed and fully supported, it can set your business apart from the competition.
Internally – Corporate thought leadership can improve company culture and morale. When done well, it can build trust, enthusiasm, pride, purpose, and loyalty. Think of it like this: wouldn’t you rather work for a company that lets you in on its goals and allows you to participate in furthering it? It shows that your employer trusts you as a person, wants to see you succeed, and needs your help. As a byproduct, they develop employees who are loyal and proud of the work they do.
Externally – From an external point of view, corporate thought leadership has enormous value. It shows brand consistency, industry authority, attention to detail, and pride. Competitors begin to look at your company as the leading figure on thoughts, ideas, and implementation. Customers see your company as head-and-shoulders above the competition. Suppliers want their resources in your hands. Distributors are happy to push your product out. The benefits go on and on.
How to Establish Corporate Thought Leadership
Once you understand the value in corporate thought leadership, you’ll be quick to jump in. While the benefits are enormous, they are definitely not easy to come by. It takes time, energy, resources, and discipline. With proper execution, you can experience great internal and external profit. Here are five corporate thought leadership steps for your own company:
- Establish your position. Before you can do anything else, establish a clear position. This requires a meeting of the minds between corporate leadership, as well as proper communication between all members of the organization. You must find consistency and purpose in your message for it to be effective.
- Develop a distribution plan. Once you have an idea of which industry you want to own, develop a detailed distribution plan. While you can have the best thoughts and ideas in the world, they are only internally beneficial if you have a distribution plan in place. Your plan should include multiple mediums, channels, and methods. Content should be pushed out via blogs, white papers, social media, industry trade publications, and anything substantive of industry-specific value.
- Identify thought leaders. While corporate thought leadership requires active participation from everyone, you should identify those who will lead the charge. Everyone has a unique set of skills and expertise – use these to your advantage. One person may be particularly good at developing interactive site content, while another may be able to reach people at a grass-roots level.
- Develop production procedures. How will content be developed and produced? Will employees be required to work on aspects of your thought leadership campaign during work hours, or encouraged to spend time on it outside of work?
- Measure and review. No corporate thought leadership plan is successful without proper metrics in place for analysis and review. This is where knowing your employees’ skill sets is important.
An Example of Effective Corporate Thought Leadership
While not always explicitly stated, corporate thought leadership is everywhere. Some companies are open about their approaches while others go about things in a private manner.
General Electric gives us an excellent look at the diversity thought leadership can possess. As its website states, “GE maintains a voice in numerous industries through the active participation in events and forums by its professional staff. These people frequently share their knowledge and expertise with various organizations that look to the company for its perspective on what is evolving in the business world around them.” Think about the many industries GE is involved in: finance, education, computers, healthcare, public administration, production, power generation, residential appliances, aviation, and so on. Yet, despite these involvements, GE maintains a singular corporate thought leadership strategy of sharing its expertise and providing answers. In fact, GE shares white papers on thought leadership on its website.
Your company may not have resources like GE or other Fortune 500 companies, but you can still implement a corporate thought leadership strategy. You can go as far as the thoughts and ideas of the people that make up your organization.
Do you encourage a corporate thought leadership strategy in your organization?
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