Five Steps to Re-Inventing Communication in Business

Contemporary communication functions can make a huge financial impact on their organizations.

As business leaders realize that communication functions don’t have to be value-sapping cost centers, the old days of “shoveling out stuff” are riding into the sunset.

It’s very much the equivalent of the human resources transformation 25 years ago. HR was viewed as the personnel administration people—shoveling out forms to be signed and rules to be followed. And then came pressure from CEOs who realized that high performing organizations competing globally required more sophisticated workforce capabilities, not more forms. HR responded.

Communication functions are in the same boat today. As with HR of the past, they’re absorbed with activity often at the expense of improving results. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I laid out a proven five-step process during a recent keynote address in Dallas.

Business leaders reading this should encourage your communication people to shift their work from an activity, “get it out mindset” to one that adds lasting value. Support your communication people as they make this sometimes scary step forward.

How does a communication professional begin to make the shift? In my keynote, I suggested asking five questions that will lead you to an opportunity to create a win that provides an important result and generates a positive return on investment.

This works.

It begins with identifying results you want to improve instead of what formal channels you want to employ.  Here are the five questions to ask and potential actions you might take based on what other communication pros have done.

  1. Where are the best opportunities to improve performance by better managing communication? [Note that the question isn’t asking about ways to improve communication. It’s asking about opportunities to improve results by using communication as a means to improving results.] Start with the result you want, not the activity you want to apply. Results will likely be related to sales revenues, profitability, quality, service delivery, productivity, safety, productivity, etc.
  2. What is the size of the opportunity? In other words, what’s the upside gain that we might be able to realize?
  3. What are the root causes of the gap between current and desired performance?
  4. What will it cost to eliminate that root cause and achieve the results we believe we can achieve?
  5. Is the ROI acceptable?

When I’m asking these questions with a communication practitioner, I always tap into various employee groups. They include leaders at various levels, employees who perform the work associated with the improvement opportunity and finance people who can provide the numbers we need.

In one project, manufacturing engineers said their spreadsheets revealed an opportunity to improve quality by 25 percent. Employees said the opportunity was closer to 60-70 percent. The employees were right. We hit the 70 percent improvement mark in three weeks. Eventually it went to 95 per cent. Always ask the people who do the work every day how they can improve the work. They know.

Use your first project as a pilot or experiment. Here are steps I use in these projects.

  • Clarify leadership roles. Coach them through the process. This may be a new concept to them.
  • Involve the people who can most affect the outcome—the people who do the work every day.
  • Conduct regular, ongoing continuous improvement meetings or huddles with the team. Create visual-at-a-glance scoreboards that display goals and actual performance to date. If your project includes remote employees, incorporate social media to facilitate communication.
  • Track progress regularly (daily, weekly, depending on the project).
  • Continuously improve the process.
  • Celebrate wins, even the smallest achievements that can generate interest and enthusiasm
  • Have the team identify and agree on a reward or recognition when they hit the target.

After celebrating success at the end of the pilot, communicate the team’s success to the rest of the organization. That is likely to create pull from other parts of the organization for similar help in improving results.

Key Takeaway:  An organization’s communication function can become a valuable asset to leaders in identifying and eliminating barriers to improved results.  The shift comes when leaders let go of the “messenger” mindset and support their communication department’s transition into operational problem solvers.

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