Give Value or Give Notice

It’s been a decade since human resources guru David Ulrich told HR professionals they needed to give value or give notice. That same message needs to be directed at communication professionals, who today produce activity often at the expense of results.

Ulrich, a University of Michigan business school professor and author on numerous HR-related books, explained the basics of the HR business. “It’s simply about taking a genuine interest in the workings of the business, then coming up with and executing solutions that meet wider business strategies, thus delivering value.”

HR people listened and shifted, albeit slowly, from personnel administrators to business professionals whose objective was to build their organizations’ workforce capability. Building that capability enabled them to help execute their organizations’ business strategies and increase the value they contributed to their businesses.

Many communication departments today are the HR equivalent of personnel administrators. They focus on activity. They “get stuff out” often regardless of whether it improves business results or adds any value.

“You want a green brochure about safety? Great, I’ll whip one right up for you,” whether the absence of a green brochure is the root cause of our safety problem or not.

This condition has existed for years. However, it’s been exacerbated by the advent of social media, which has literally thrown communication professionals into a tactical abyss that rarely – if ever – creates results that matter to businesses.

For example, I once interviewed the senior vice president of marketing for a large pharmaceutical about ways the communication function could begin improving business results in his area.  This is what he said: “Our communication people are worried about the wrong things. I tell them about a business problem I’m having and they trot out the same activities. They worry about click-throughs, opens, mentions, share of voice, awareness and retweets. I’m worried about sales and gross margin. Where can I find communication people who can help us improve our business?”

Next week I’m delivering three presentations to the world conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), at which more than 1,000 people will attend. Two of my presentations will be about leadership. One will be a three-hour workshop focusing on the need for communication professionals to work on improving results and value.

Many communication professionals add no value whatsoever. My admonition next week is to “give value or give notice.”

Other communication professionals are already improving business results that are greater than the cost of creating the results. That’s value. They’re removing communication breakdowns that impede organizational performance.  Why not you?

One communication pro worked with a team representing a variety of disciplines to increase sales by more than 20 percent. Another helped her company improve on-time delivery by 38 percent which, in turn, increased sales by 30 percent.

Others have improved cycle time by 70 percent, increased productivity by 11 percent, reduced scrap and rework by 60 percent and cut turnover by more than 25 percent. There are many more stories about communication departments that are contributing to results that matter.

How do you start this process?

If you’re a business leader:

  • Encourage people in your communication department to attend the IABC World Conference in Washington, D.C. Ask them to connect with people who are already practicing what’s referred to as performance-based communication management.
  • Pass this Leadership Report on to your communication department leader and ask what he or she can do to start moving the department’s work toward a more performance-based role.
  • Ask specifically how you—their leader–can help them improve results and value. Remember, others have proved its doable. There’s a track record.
  • Invite them to conduct what’s called a value-to-cost assessment to uncover opportunities to re-deploy communication resources, including money, to higher value work.

If you’re a communication practitioner:

  • Attend the IABC World Conference. Find and follow people who have a track record of improving business performance. Real business performance. Remember, there’s a difference between producing activity (doing stuff) and producing results such as improved quality, service, sales, productivity, costs and cycle time.
  • When you return to work, tell your leader you want to add more value. (Name one leader who will not permit you to add more value.) Here’s all you have to say: “I want to add more measurable value to our organization. Today’s best practice communication practitioners are improving business results at a cost that creates added value. I want to do that. Practically shout: “I DON’T WANT TO BE A COST CENTER ANY MORE!”
  • Invest some time identifying where you may have competency gaps. Hint: Look first at skilling up in leadership, change management and business and financial acumen. That’s where most communication professionals are weak.
  • Begin thinking about communication as a system rather than as a collection of formal channels that include what are often value sapping social media. The system includes what leaders say and do and what rewards, measurement, recognition and other systems communicate.

If you don’t like these options for giving value, maybe it’s time to give notice.

KEY TAKEAWAY: It’s time to evaluate your work. Are you activity-only focused, like being in charge of “Tweeting”? Do you actually create positive business results for your company? If not, you aren’t adding value. Other communication professionals are using their position to improve business results that are greater than the cost of creating them. That’s value.  Why not you?

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