Recent research has shown that there’s a critical need for many communication professionals to convince executives and senior management of their capacity to deliver business value. This fact is highlighted in The Licence to Operate, the first installment of a new research brief series by IC Kollectif, which also reports that while an increasing number of business leaders accept the inherent value of good communication, not all are confident that their communication teams are delivering it. Moreover, the research notes that communication professionals are not making a convincing case internally about their value and that many board members and top managers view communication professionals as channel producers or technicians.
These findings underscore two challenges commonly raised by internal communication practitioners:
- The difficulty being recognized as trusted advisers and counselors by executives and senior leaders
- Convincing senior leaders of the business value of internal communication.
Getting recognition is often cited as the key to the coveted “licence to operate,” while many argue it is actually instrumental to delivering business value. In The Licence to Operate, successful in-house communication professionals, C-suite leaders and academics outline a number of ways to overcome the above challenges.
More than Communication Expertise
Communication expertise alone is not enough. Practitioners must understand the business and show that to business leaders. Business acumen is a prerequisite to gain the credibility and trust that are needed to be considered a trusted advisor and counselor and to add value. For internal communication to be considered a vital business management function and for professionals to be considered business partners who are called upon to help address business issues, practitioners need to have a thorough understanding of their business and the industry in general and, even higher-level, the principles of business.
Be Part of Business Conversations
Practitioners need to create opportunities to demonstrate that they have something to contribute. They should put communication on the agenda and be prepared to discuss performance—whether good and bad—challenges, lessons learned, what they’re seeing, and how it accrues to the business. They should participate in the discussions around where communication can and can’t contribute to addressing business opportunities or challenges.
Assess and Measure
The value of internal communication relies on its capacity to help organizations achieve their goals. Evaluation and measurement are essential to demonstrate the extent to which internal communication has, or not, an organizational impact.
Bring Unique Insights
Beyond measurement, internal communication professionals need to bring insights to business discussions that leaders cannot, and will not, get from anyone else. Practitioners have to measure communication activities, distill the feedback, and deliver actionable recommendations. By bringing these measures together and using them to inform action, they can have a rich, constructive conversation about the value of communication. That’s a true value-added service for leaders that translates to business metrics like higher employee engagement, greater productivity, safety, or lower voluntary attrition rates.
Credibility Based on Data Analysis
Even if the conversations do happen, it is critical that they reach the strategic level, and steer away from “vanity measures.” Data analysis not only allows objective judgments to be made but more critically, it is data that usually unlocks the dialogue about communication in an organization. It gives credibility to internal communication team members, many of whom may not have maturity and experience to offer a valued opinion based simply on what they know or have seen.
Case Study and Statistical Approach
Communication tends to exist in areas that are more experiential and qualitative than most business leaders are comfortable with. If practitioners can share third-party data and analysis that shows ROI and quantitative impact on business, it is sometimes the best tool for convincing management of the need and utility for robust, well-equipped internal communications teams, which is another reason for internal communication to keep excellent KPIs and internal results tracking to justify their programs and tactics.
Early Warning Systems
Beyond tracking and demonstrating performance, communication professionals can become a proactive early warning system for identifying issues or problems. Good internal communication can be the canary in the coal mine, an early warning system that allows the communication team to take the pulse of the organization and react accordingly, which can also have an impact on external stakeholders.
Communication professionals must be able to understand the metrics used to define financial success or the failure of business performance. Financial literacy isn’t optional and financial communication isn’t solely the purview of external communication. To communicate quarterly and yearly performance internally, practitioners have to understand the business to take that story and frame it appropriately for internal stakeholders. They need to have strong connections in the Finance function and find safe havens to ask questions as they build their financial acumen.
To get the complete key findings, insights and resources, download The Licence to Operate.
The research brief series is based on the findings of the global report The Next Level: The Business Value of Good Internal Communication. The report is supported by IABC, The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management and The Conference Board, and is available on the IC Kollectif website.
This piece was originally published by The Conference Board.
Lise Michaud is the Founder of IC Kollectif, an independent non-profit based in Montreal and the only global organization dedicated to th estrategic management of internal communicatio as a business function. IC Kollectif shares knowledge, insights and research from around the world on the practice of IC with communication professionals in more than 163 countries.
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