Navigator Insights

Communications – every company needs a Tom Hagen

Peter Fa’afiu:

I sat down the other day and treated myself to watching The Godfather …again! I must admit, I am a fan of the mob movies, but this one in particular.  It remains a masterpiece in storytelling. Whilst the Corleone characters have always interested me, it is the character of Tom Hagan – the consigliere – that intrigues me.

It got me thinking about how in many ways the communications (external and internal) and corporate affairs confidante is also a consigliere to the CEO and Board.   Someone who is a seller of concepts and a finder of solutions.  I jotted down a few ‘Tom Hagen’ attributes from my own years of experience as a former diplomat and communications advocate.  Tell me what you think.

10 Tom Hagen attributes

  1. Dispassionate objective counsel.
    Tom was a faithful confidante and mentor who offered indispensable advice to his ‘Family’.  In times of leadership change, particularly at the CEO-level, it is not surprising that many communications confidantes have found themselves working alongside the ‘Boss’.  It is the communications advocate who provides clarity to a leadership team.
  2. Creator of constructive tension.
    In a volatile business and public sector climate, it is the communications consigliere that creates healthy constructive tension amongst the senior leadership.  It is this ‘tension’ that enables good decision-making and sound business judgement.  Ideas spring from good honest conversations.  At the same time, it is the communications consigliere who delivers the final decision of the leadership team – good or bad.
  3. Protector of the brand and reputation.
    Whilst Tom was not an enforcer, he was certainly a fierce brand promoter.  It is the corporate affairs consigliere and his/her marketing team that protects the brand and reputation of the organisation.  At the same time, the consigliere has the ability to destroy the same brand and reputation, due to a lack of tight communications, poor marketing delivery or poor relationships with media and other external stakeholders.
  4. Ability to manage and leverage relationships.
    Not surprisingly the key moments in the film has Tom visiting people.  The consigliere manages the relationships on behalf of the Family.  It is the corporate affairs and communications consigliere who leverages the relationships with partners, particularly the government relations manager with Government and associated departments and councils.
  5. Instill common sense and loyalty.
    During times of significant change and a challenging business environment, it is the communications and corporate affairs confidante who instils the loyalty that is needed.  He or she undertakes this not through force or directness (not often anyway!) but rather diplomatically through the art of persuasion and listening to the concerns of front line staff and most importantly clients and customers.  It is the internal communications team that provides common sense during times of HR process focussed change management. As the story goes, it is the HR manager who reminds leaders that we need to ‘treat our people with respect and dignity during this change process’; it is the communications advisor who responds ‘really, did we not do so previously?’
  6.  Antidote to CEOs who lack self-awareness.
    It is not surprising that when CEOs depart a company for greener pastures, it is the communications consigliere that is ‘riding shotgun’ at the CEO’s next appointment.  The consigliere provides the tactical advice – knows which levers to pull and which buttons to push.  Knows the political and economic eco-system better than anyone else (even the CEO and CFO) and to that end makes the CEO a better leader.
  7. Part of the inner decision making circle.
    Tom was softly spoken but everyone listened.  People listened not only because of the position he held within the inner circle, but also because he was able to shine the torchlight on blindspots.  Consiglieres are part of the inner circle because they are able to ask the right questions, at the right time, in order to receive the necessary responses.
  8. Enhance trust through improved and tight communications.
    Massive business change strengthens the role of the communications teams.  Take NZ Post with its recent announcement of redundancies – I have no doubt that the communications teams (internal and external) would have prepared its frontline leaders for change.  In addition, decision makers at local government and business level would have received briefings well in advance.  Trust is gained through tightly managed and honest communication both internally and externally.  It is the Communications GM who holds that together.
  9. Conflict resolver.
    Whilst Tom was not a wartime consigliere, there are plenty of examples of where this rare breed is called upon.  The question for the CEO is when is the right time to let go of a Tom Hagen and bring in a bare knuckle brawler like Rahm Emmanuel or an Alistair Campbell?  But a word of caution – you need a resolver, not a starter!
  10. Prepare to bring in outside help when needed.
    Not every company has the type of relationship that Tom and Vito had.  So it is important that leadership teams understand that there are entities out there that are able to provide the expertise of a consigliere and execute on the plan.

So I leave you with a question: Who is your communications consigliere?

Let Navigator Partners answer that question for you.

Peter Fa’afiu is an experienced communications and stakeholder engagement general manager.  His views above are taken from his personal experiences over the years.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia