The world’s premier communication association launched its world conference in Montreal on Sunday. Since I became an IABC* fellow nearly 20 years ago, I’ve only missed speaking at this conference a few times before now. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend this year.
So, from my office in Annapolis, here’s what I would have shared with you. To get on the career fast track, I believe communication practitioners everywhere need to be focusing on four specific areas.
Increase the value of what you do. Communication functions have been cost centers for far too long —sucking away resources that rarely generate an acceptable return. That’s inexcusable in a world where communication practitioners now are creating improvements to their organization’s bottom line, which are greater than the cost of making those improvements.
Here’s what one client learned how to do. One of her company’s goals was to increase profitable sales. She and her communication team identified specific communication breakdowns that were preventing her company from increasing profitable sales. The team worked with others in the organization to eliminate those breakdowns. Sales went up 23 percent in less than three months. Her investment generated a 1,440 percent return.
Senior business leaders need to insist that their communication people add real value.
Implement a Communication Strategy That Executes the Business Strategy
Communication strategies are often disconnected from their organization’s overall business and work at cross purposes. Every sub-strategy, whether its human resources, finance, manufacturing, engineering or supply chain management should help the business execute the overarching business strategy. Why should the communication strategy be immune from making a contribution to business success?
One communication practitioner told me that “we don’t do operations communication.” I reminded her that her industry is all about operations. “Why would you deliberately disconnect yourself from the business of the business?” I asked. “Why do you bother to come to work if you’re not going to help the organization succeed?” More business leaders need to be asking these kinds of questions.
Measure What Matters
Remember, you are running a business!
Measure what matters to your business rather than irrelevant communication measures.
Results-based communication practitioners are driven by business measures such as quality, service delivery, cost and productivity. They ask: Where can we improve quality by better managing communication? They then improve communication around quality. Quality goes up. You can measure how much it went up. “Scrap went down 20 percent as a result of better communication among operators in our daily team meeting,” someone might say.
When traditional communication departments create and disseminate news and information, it’s easy to measure activity such as the number of tweets, retweets, page views, clicks, visits, campaign effectiveness, content consumption, readability or channel usage. But none of these are business measures. None of these tell you anything about the state of your business. In fact, it’s entirely likely that you could score well on all of the non-business measures and still go out of business. I know one communication professional who improved quality by 65 percent and productivity by 15 percent simply by changing what an incentive plan was communicating to employees. That had a far greater impact than the number of tweets, page views and channel usage.
Use Social Media to Produce Results, Not Just Activity
I’ve spoken with a lot of social media platform sales people. All of them are hard pressed to identify results their products have created. That’s because, as one social media seller told me, “We’re not trying to sell results. We’re trying to sell software.”
If they’re selling software that costs you more than what it can deliver in terms of results, you’re likely draining value from your organization. Is there anything else you would buy that represented a cost with no upfront expectation that it would generate a positive business outcome? No, not really.
Social media needs to be used as a business tool—a way to move information from one point to another so that information sharing is richer, which in turn creates better performance. Insist on it!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Focusing on the four core areas of adding to bottom line value, integrating communication strategies with the business strategy, measuring what matters and using social media as a business tool will propel any company communication professional into an organizational super star!
*International Association of Business Communicators