Karla Smith, chief financial officer at Ogilvy UK, weighs in on the prime minister’s departure and lays out how she thinks the Conservative party can turn things around.
Leadership is about listening. It’s about learning from the past and taking everyone on a journey. Yes, you need to be able to make decisions, but if that is your only modus operandi you are not going to last long. As the last couple of days have shown us.
The Conservative party members this summer voted for what they recognized – a strong decisive woman, something they had had in the past. They did this rather than listening to the details. And then Liz Truss led without listening to the details.
The prime minister and the chancellor are the chief executive officer and chief financial officer of the country. The partnership needs to be strong and on shared values. The vision needs to be clear. We seemed to have that. However, we didn’t have leaders. We didn’t have open, honest, authentic people who took the rest of their members or the public along with them. So, how do you turn this around?
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Firstly, you need to build within your own organization. Your strongest brand ambassadors are your own people. Conservative HQ needs to have a leader and a chancellor whom the majority of its MPs believe in – and in that light, I welcome the new section criteria set out yesterday.
Secondly, you need to listen. Whoever the new leadership turns out to be, the key way to galvanize the party will be to listen – and I mean really listen. Qualitative and quantitative listening. Research within the party, within the country. Understanding the segmentation of your members and your audience’s responses and letting people who have been frustrated really get their feelings out in a safe space where they feel supported. If you don’t have a space for them to do this, they will run and do it anyway (thank you Twitter), so give them that listening ear.
Thirdly, you have a clear vision, but you don’t build that in isolation. You build it from listening. Not every suggestion needs to become a new policy, but you need to be clear about what has made the cut and what hasn’t and why you have made those decisions. You take people on that journey – whether that is your cabinet, your membership, or the country – and you test that vision. You don’t pile on with 10 new initiatives in a week.
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Pick the ones that will have the biggest impact, discuss them with your stakeholders and build a plan on how you go to market. You build up your support base before you go into full-scale launch. You test and tweak – this is what all businesses do with a new product or a new way to market. You think about how, where and when you want to land your message, what outcome you want and what channels will work best. You make sure you have a marketing mix and that media training has a strong role to play. The research and the feedback is often the most innovative moment and you never stop listening.
So, can they find their way back? Well, the first audience they need to convince is their own MPs. Until they are a united front, the UK public won’t give them the opportunity. Marketing has the strongest impact when the brand story is at the heart of the product and the people who work in the business. Without that, the authenticity of messaging is missing and your customers can tell. So if I was at Conservative party HQ now and responsible for allocating that marketing spend, for now I’d be switching up high on the internal comms and market research.
Karla Smith is the chief financial officer at Ogilvy UK.