More Communication Departments Add Measurable Value

Why would a communication department deliberately absent itself from the place where it could add the most value?
At one of our recent workshops I told the story of a communication manager who’d championed a project to improve on-time delivery in one of her company’s operations. It was an exceptional example of a communication function removing communication barriers to customer service.   The story began with the company’s CEO laying out his business strategy and ended with steps the communication people took to connect employees and their work to part of that strategy—improving on-time delivery.
One of the workshop attendees pushed back and said, “That’s not communication. That’s operations.”
I explained that in most companies (including hers), operations IS the business because that’s where the money is made.
“Our communication department doesn’t do operations. We communicate the strategy,” she said resolutely.
I pointed out that if you just communicate the strategy broadly without connecting people and their work to that strategy, you’ve added no value. Value is added when people improve results by changing how they do their work.  If communicating strategy is all you do, you might as well stay home.
A few days after the workshop, I interviewed the head of marketing for a $20-plus billion company. I asked him how his company’s communication function could improve its value to him.
“Our communication people need to focus more on results—measurable results,” he said. “Right now, they’re mainly focused on activity—doing stuff. They need to identify the results they want to improve and then create a plan of activities that will deliver those results. I care about sales, revenues and gross margin. That’s what our communication people need to care about.”
I’ve spoken with dozens of CEOs over the years who’ve said the same thing as that marketing leader. Deliver results, not activity. Outcomes not just output.
Every piece of the organization needs to add value. The human resources discipline faced a turning point more than 15 years ago. It was known as the personnel department that cared a lot about filling out forms and saying “no” to almost any good idea that was proposed to improve the enterprise.
Dave Ulrich, an HR guru and University of Michigan business school professor, wrote an article back then that suggested that HR either “give value of give notice.”
Over time the HR functions in many sophisticated companies shifted their role from “personnel administration” to organizations that help build workforce capability—the ability of an organization’s people to help the business succeed.
The communication function has a similar opportunity now. Not unlike HR 15 or so years ago, it needs to find ways to add real, measurable value—value being defined as something customers are willing to pay for.
An increasing number of communication professionals are, in fact, making the shift by eliminating communication defects that cause their organizations to underperform. They’re drawing on high tech and high touch communication processes to improve sales, quality, service, safety, cost and productivity problems. They’re creating gains that are greater than the cost of creating the gains. That’s real value.
Many business leaders are unaware of the shift that’s occurring in the communication discipline. Their expectations of their communication departments are that they will do pretty much what they’ve always done—“doing stuff,” as the marketing head referred to it.
However, more and more leaders want measurable results from their communication departments just as they want measurable results from other departments.
HR leaders are among the first to capitalize on communication professionals who can help them build the capability of the workforce—a clear objective of the HR function in a contemporary organization. These communication people are making the HR leader’s job easier.
One HR leader told me recently: “I’m held accountable for improved people performance–levels of engagement and levels of performance. Great communication management is instrumental to making that happen. Not having access to that resource would put me at a disadvantage.”
For those communication people who are creating significant performance gains, keep it up. You’re value to the enterprise will go up.
For those communication people who are resisting the shift to a more outcome based role, please read Dave Ulrich’s “Give value or give notice” article before it’s too late.

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