Are You Out Of Touch With Your Business?

Most internal communication departments work on the outskirts of town.

That’s what a vice president of operations told me recently. “They’re worried about stuff that doesn’t matter that much. They worry about click-throughs, opens, mentions, share of voice, awareness and retweets. I’m worried about financial and operating results. They need to work with us in the ‘center city,’ not on the outskirts of the business.”

To be fair, there is a small cadre of internal communication professionals who contribute to the financial and operating success of their businesses. They’re making quantitative and qualitative improvements in business measures that matter, creating positive returns on the investments made in them, thus improving results while adding value. One practitioner developed a value proposition with her team that says quite simply: “We either help the company make or save money. If it doesn’t do that, we don’t do it.”

This small minority is vastly outnumbered by a huge crowd that desperately clings to internal communication as it was seemingly eons ago.  But this crowd is dying out. Budgets are being slashed. Vacancies aren’t being refilled. Pay is being adjusted downward based on the contributions these folks make, which often is very little in terms of business results.

The communication discipline can turn it around, but doing so represents a transformation. Many need to build new competencies. They need to learn about businesses and how they work. Many need to learn about managing change to continuously improve, strengthen leadership competencies and build basic consulting skills.

It starts with knowing what to measure, which means understanding what causes an organization to win and then eliminating communication breakdowns that are holding the organization back.

I recently read advice to communication people that different departments and geographies should be covered (with communication activities) in fair proportion to their number of employees. That’s fine if your job is to give people attention. It’s not fine if one team of eight people out of 100 are contributing to 80% of a quality problem. In that case, you should focus on identifying communication breakdowns among those eight people that when eliminated make the quality problem go away.

When traditional communication departments create and disseminate news and information, it’s easy to measure the impact–the number of tweets, retweets, page views, campaign effectiveness, content consumption, readability or channel usage. But none of these are leading or lagging indicators of organizational performance. Why would any business adopt measures that aren’t driving business results? Especially when you have a choice.
Internal communication practitioners need to adopt communication goals that directly drive organization results. “When I do this, it causes this result.” Nothing less!

Knowing what numbers need to improve is a big start toward connecting to the business—another key issue among internal communication people.

A leader in Florida told his communication team he needed to improve security in the company’s warehouse—that people were breaking in and stealing products that were on the shelves. When his communication team suggested creating a brochure to address the issue, he explained to them that “People aren’t stealing because we don’t have a brochure. I want help identifying and eliminating the root cause of the problem.” He wanted his communication team to think and act like business people.

Here’s a five-step plan that I discussed at a conference last week.
1. Team up with someone who can teach you the process and prevent you from stumbling. The results-based and activity-based mindsets and approaches are very different.
2. Get your leaders on board with a business case for becoming results-focused. Remember, they’re getting paid to improve results and value.  Your shift helps them and creates more pull for improved results and added value.
3. Pick a pilot that improves important results with a positive ROI.
4. Replicate the pilot in multiple areas.
5. Implement a process that makes results-based communication standard.

Others have proved it’s doable.

KEY TAKEAWAY:  Adopting the right measures and then further connecting to the business is critical if internal communication professionals are going to contribute to improving results and value.  

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