Last week, I delivered a keynote presentation in Dallas to more than 50 internal communication people representing many companies. The event was sponsored by Poppulo, the social media firm based in Ireland. The focus: How to shift from cost centers to value creators.
Historically, internal communication managed formal channels that included town hall meetings, newsletters, brochures, blogs, speeches, social media, video and others. Despite their bluster, formal channels have a relatively small impact on what gets done in an organization.
A recent Poppulo survey of 1,500 internal communication employees found that most internal communication people know they aren’t perceived as adding value, have the wrong priorities and lack competencies needed to affect business results.
Some internal communication functions have made the move to adding value by making significant improvements in quality, service delivery, sales, productivity, safety and turnover.
FedEx internal communication leaders were early adopters. They and CEO Dave Bronczek teamed up to improve export sales in Los Angeles by more than 20 per cent and at five other locations by more than $6 million. The ROI was nearly 1,700 percent.
Similar gains have been made by communication professionals in consumer goods, manufacturing, high tech engineering, diversified technology, software engineering, logistics and food products.
In my presentation last week, I recommended three proven steps toward shifting from draining value to adding value. Here they are.
Manage Communication as an Integrated System
High impact communication comes from what leaders say and do and what they don‘t say and don’t do. Processes and systems also communicate powerfully. The reward system is one. There’s a saying: “What gets rewarded gets done.” Measurement is another powerful communicator. Another saying: “What counts is what you count.”
Work processes, technology, learning and development and the work environment all communicate in various different ways. We’re bombarded daily by thousands of signs, signals, cues and messages that tell us what’s important and what’s not. We factor in the sum total of all the messages we get in a day and then we act.
Removing communication breakdowns such as mixed messages, slow moving, inaccurate or missing information helps people perform better. Customers and shareholders benefit.
Information drives our decisions. Decisions drive our actions. Actions drive results. Making sure people have the right information at the right time becomes a very big deal.
Measure What Matters
Traditional communication functions measure the number of tweets, retweets, page views, content consumption, readability and channel usage, to name a few.
None of this reflects the state of our businesses. None matters to shareholders, customers or business leaders. Adopting these useless measures disconnects internal communication from the business. When you’re disconnected from the business, why bother to come to work? This is why the people in the Poppulo survey said communication people often have the wrong priorities.
Internal communication should measure and improve business metrics like quality, on-time delivery, productivity, sales and gross margin, among others.
Shift from a Cost-Center Mentality to a Value Creation Mindset
Shifting to a value-adding function requires four steps.
- Get your leaders on board. Leaders want to make their numbers, so when leaders see others getting the kinds of performance gains you’re able to help them generate, they’ll want more of the same.
- Assess your current state. A value-to-cost assessment measures the importance, effectiveness and cost communication activities. Information from this assessment can tell you volumes about the productivity of your communication investment. Begin with assessing your current competencies and competency gaps. Shifting the role of internal communication to that of a value-producer requires a deeper understanding of the business, finances, leadership development, change management and consulting/business adviser skills.
- Build a business case with a value proposition that clarifies what you will and won’t do in your results and value driven role.
- Start improving critical business results in areas that matter to the business. Ask these questions to get you started.
• Where are the best opportunities to improve performance by better managing the communication system?
• What’s the size of the opportunity?
• What are the root causes of the under-performance?
• What will it cost to improve?
• Is the ROI acceptable?
Key Takeaway: Shifting from cost center to value creator is still a novel idea to many internal communication professionals. But it’s doable because others have done it. The big successes come from internal communication professionals who remove communication breakdowns that make it difficult for people to do their jobs well.