Do You Create or Destroy Value?

valueRecent research into communication practices suggests that only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals. Are you part of the 50 percent?

This arresting statistic is based on the “#11ways Benchmarking Database,” a report I recently developed with IABC Vice Chair Michael Ambjorn. The database covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with a total of approximately 390,000 employees.

We discovered a lot of interesting things–including ties between communication and organizational performance. For example, high-performing organizations, when compared to their peers, are:

  • Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free.
  • 80 percent more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
  • Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences.
  • 60 percent more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.

So, communication in an average organization is stuffed with messages that are “all about me” and has jargon galore. Whereas in a high-performing organization, communication is likely to be simple, clear and have two-way channels built in.

Take a look at your organization’s communications. Are they generally the former or the latter?

But for communicators there is something even more alarming.

It’s a shocking indictment of the profession that, by their own admission, only half of communicators align all their work to strategy and goals. What are they doing the rest of the time? What is happening to all that money shareholders are investing in the internal communication department? Is only half of it delivering value? What is their job, if not to help deliver strategy?

The research suggested two interlocking factors that might contribute to this.

On the one hand, half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communication team to the role of a paper boy or paper girl: Just delivering the message. Indeed, some communication departments are referred to as the SOS (“Send Out Stuff”) team. If corporate leaders are devising the messages, they’d better be good at it, but only 20 percent of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communication going on. Or, as one organization anonymously told us:

“Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!”

So it seems that executives should listen to communicators’ advice more. Communicators have a lot to give and perhaps they are unable to add value because they are just “sending out stuff.”

But what about the other side? What does it look like from the senior executive perspective? If you, as a communicator, want to be listened to by senior people, you’d better be able to demonstrate business understanding and credibility as a trusted adviser. A CEO might say, “If you don’t understand our business and our customers—the ones who pay your salary, by the way—why should I listen to you?”

But only a third of communicators in our research said that they had a high level of business know-how and understanding. Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people.

I believe that when only half of communicators say their work is aligned to business strategy and goals, and less than a third admit to understanding the business, the profession has a serious problem. Luckily, these skills are easily taught–I teach them all the time–so there is hope. But our research tells us that, for many communicators, it is a case of “step-up-or-ship-out.”

It’s my belief that communicators can do more to align their organizations and make use of their professional knowledge.

For more information, or the full details of the benchmarking database, please contact:

Stephen Welch
+44 7884 110680

Stephen Welch

Stephen Welch

Stephen Welch helps organizations with culture change, communication and leadership, and explores the connections between behavior and job/organization design. He is a member of the Market Research Society and the Chartered Institute of Publications, a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and past president of the IABC U.K. chapter. Follow him on Twitter at @stephenwelch11.

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