Does Your Communication Department Create Output or Outcomes?

One of our clients wants to enter 2015 drivel-free.

That’s right.  Drivel-free, as in free of babble, gibberish, or blather.

This corporate communication department is on a march to shift from an expensive cost center that “puts out stuff” to one that creates value by fixing operational problems caused by poor communication.

Leaders are increasingly calling on their communication and human resources departments to collaborate to make these problems go away.  For example, removing communication obstacles to information flow—and decision-making—through and across the organizational silos so new products can get to market faster.

Overcoming the Obstacles
There are four primary communication defects that communication departments everywhere should be addressing as priority number one:

1)    Mixed Messages
Leaders say one thing but do something else. That leaves it to employees to figure out what’s really important. For example, if a leader is talking about quality but recruiting, training and incentives are focused on productivity, he or she is really communicating that productivity is king. The communication people have an opportunity to create better alignment among the “say” and the “do” and increase both quality and productivity.
2)    Slow Moving Information
Bureaucracy and lack of a sense of urgency slows down the time people take to make decisions or respond to one another. This affects productivity and on-time delivery to customers.
3)    Inaccurate Information
Sales people can’t get reliable information about new product features and benefits and pricing information. Focused on correcting this flaw, a communication department can address the problem and improve on-time delivery to customers.
4)    No Communication
Customers frequently call in change orders but the information often doesn’t make it to the people who need to fill the order. The wrong product is sent to the customer. The communication department could create a communication checklist process that cuts rework in half.

Communication failures are a drain. They suck up time.  They contribute to mistakes. They affect quality, contribute to re-work, on-time-delivery and costs. They’re demoralizing.

Working Backwards
Last week we worked with one of our clients’ communication departments to analyze their current work—where it adds value and where it doesn’t. We’re working together to determine where they can shift from process-focused work to results-focused work that drives measurable outcomes.

Their initial struggle is to learn to work backwards from what they’ve always done. Many communication people today are focused on activities.  “Let’s do a news release.” “Let’s create a manager communication kit.” “Let’s produce a video.” Let’s tweet.”

However, this client is learning to start with the presenting problem and determining the results that are needed to eliminate the problem and improve business results. They’re learning how to ask specific questions that help them identify what needs to be fixed and how:

  • Where are communication breakdowns causing us to under-perform?
  • What are the root-causes of the communication breakdowns?
  • What’s the size of the gain when we remove the communication breakdowns?
  • What’s the cost of removing those breakdowns?
  • Is the return on the investment acceptable?

Go. No go.

It’s really a simple process but it doesn’t feel simple to people who’ve never had to change the way work is done in order to change results.

As the head of communication for a large company in the northeast U.S. told me following a recent talk I gave in Providence, Rhode Island:  “No longer can we sit idly by and push out crap that gets no results. We’ve got to be fully in the game or we’re going to be out of the game.”

Her comments reminded me of University of Michigan professor Dave Ulrich’s warning to human resource practitioners years ago when he admonished them to “Give value or give notice.”  That comment, and multiple pressures on HR departments to start paying for themselves launched the HR reinvention efforts in the nineties.

Communication departments can make the same shift. Fixing problems and adding value creates demand for more.

Communication practitioners must get in the game.

CEO’s should demand it.

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