Communications should support the long term success of your organisation. Here are the starting points for you to get the most out of your communications team, which I expand on below. I finish with a couple of thoughts from others that may help you with your communications starting points.
1. Make sure you know your values, vision and story
2. Understand your own experience, which tells you communication works in the long term
3. Create a communications philosophy and apply it
4. Communication is central and essential to leadership
5. Regardless of titles, you are the chief communicator for your organisation
6. Actions speak louder than words
7. Most of your effective, influential and persuasive communication will be done by your people, not communication tools
8. Never stop listening, never stop learning, and make sure your communications team is listening too
9. Relationships are multifaceted, communications must be too
10. Everyone you are communicating with is human
11. Make sure you directly work with your communicators
Make sure you know your values, vision and story
Organisations are made up of people with their own personalities and values. It is not enough to have values and vision for the organisation, you must also understand and communicate the values and vision of the leadership, the Board, the CEO and the senior leadership team. A good communicator will help you define, refine and simplify the story of the organisation, which will not just be organisational but will also be about its people as individuals, especially the President and CEO (whatever their titles may actually be). Most visions, value statements and even stories are vague or lacking in meaning. Giving real meaning to these aspects will improve your recruitment, your retention rates and your success.
Understand that your own experience, which tells you communication works in the long term
You became the CEO by your hard work, skill, knowledge and abilities. But you also got there by being able to persuade and influence people through your actions supported by strong communications. Remember all those meetings you went to? All that networking you did? All those seminars and training and leadership meetings and team building days? All of this was communication and it worked in the long term. You know communications work, but you also know that very few of those activities had a direct result on you winning your position. All communications are like this, in your family life, your social life and in your business. So don’t focus on short term ROI and measurements. By all means have some for accountability so that you know the communications team is doing the job. But you have better things to spend the company resources on than measuring something that will have long term success anyway. Trust that if you have the vision, values and story right, you and your organisation will get results.
Create a communications philosophy and apply it
Because communication is a long term discipline, you need to create a philosophy that will guide your communications for the long term. Recognise that your organisation can only exist because your community allows that (think of elsewhere in the world where different rules apply). Base your philosophy on community expectations, board expectations and your own expectations of behaviour. This will help create long term relationships and reputation that will assist you to get through the hard times.
Communication is central and essential to leadership
This is almost so well known that it shouldn’t need to be said but most companies focus communications on sales, marketing, getting publicity, change management, investor relations et al rather than on leadership, which is important internally and externally. Organisations succeed when they lead their stakeholders, including their customers. Geoff Kelly, founder of Kelly Strategic Influence identified four leadership influence areas:
· Voice – be authentic and quintessential
· Behaviour – both action and communication, especially consistency between them
· Focus – Vision, objectives and themes
· Context – perceptions, setting and history (both yours and the communities), systems and relationships
Bill George, in Authentic Leadership (2003) identified five dimensions of authentic leadership:
• Understanding your purpose (why would I follow you?)
• Practising solid values (consistency)
• Leading with your heart (passion)
• Establishing connected relationships (built on trust)
• Self-discipline in getting results (deliver results, both short and long term)
Whichever way you look at leadership, communications are at the very heart of it. None of the influence areas or dimensions listed above can be achieved without communication. After all, if you don’t communicate your leadership, how will people be able to choose to listen. And leadership is central to the success of any organisation.
Regardless of titles, you are the chief communicator for your organisation
Not all CEO are great communicators (they all have skills, but maybe not greatness) and many hate public speaking (even internal communications at meetings, town halls, quarterly report meetings etc can be public speaking). Regardless of how good a communicator you are, every word you say and everything you do will be treated as important. An example – A CEO asked me why, despite our best efforts of communicating that our people were important and training was essential, most employees still felt that we were all about the money. One reason I mentioned to him was a story he told at one of our internal quarterly meetings for all staff. He was emphasising the importance of compliance with corporate policies and told the story of an armed robbery, mentioning how much the company had lost in the robbery as a result of non-compliance. But he never once mentioned the staff member who had been injured in the robbery, a fact that everyone in the room knew. He left a clear impression that it was all about the money, not the people.
Actions speak louder than words
There’s no point in having a philosophy of open communications if then you hide bad news from your stakeholders. This is another reason why it is so important that you define your vision, values and philosophy right from the start. If there is inconsistency between your words and your actions, then the actions will carry the day, and this will very quickly impact on those relationships and the reputation you have worked so hard to build. Don’t communicate things because they sound good or because they are what stakeholders expect to hear. You will be exposed by your actions.
Most of your effective, influential and persuasive communication will be done by your people, not communication tools
Every day, every one of your people communicates with someone about your organisation. They are very credible because they are insiders. It may be a customer or supplier, it may be a family or a friend. It is all communication that will have an effect. They develop the organisation’s relationships and have a major impact on your reputation. Your communications team must understand that it is part of their role to help them communicate, through training, guidance and mentoring. They need to get out there with your people, and they need to be forcing you and your leadership team to get out there with your people as well. Everything you know in your life and your business tells you that there are no more effective communications than direct ones from people you know, however delivered, whether in meetings, at barbecues, through grapevines or by media, mass and social. Your communications must influence these direct communications. Having clearly defined visions, values and story, and a communications philosophy will provide the basis for this.
Never stop listening, never stop learning, and make sure your communications team is listening too
All relationships are based on communications, but you don’t just tell things to people, you also listen to them. You do this in your personal and social life, you must do it in your professional life as well. Many organisations are terrible listeners because they confuse the need to listen with the action of failing to take decisions or the perception of lack of leadership. Great leaders listen. Read any book about the Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, and you will find they were great listeners. That doesn’t mean that you listen and then follow, as happens too often in politics where they follow the views expressed in opinion polls. It may mean that you have to engage in a change program to persuade people of the need for them to embrace your approach. But listening is a key, and learning from that listening is essential.
Relationships are multifaceted, communications must be too
You don’t have to directly communicate things to each and every person you want to communicate with. When you are talking about yourself and your company, your words will be taken with a grain of salt because that is a very human reaction to self-endorsement. There are many grapevines and networks out there. You can influence others to speak on your behalf, and the message will get to your audiences through those others, often a much more credible route. While this may seem to be indirect communication, the listeners get the information directly from a person they believe to be credible. So stop talking about yourself (or your organisation) so much and start talking about others, particularly your stakeholders. You’ll find they start talking about you too, and generally more positively.
Everyone you are communicating with is human
Communicating is a very human activity and listening is even more human. If you want to communicate effectively and ensure you are heard, your communications need to be directed to people. In our lives, we communicate through stories, through expressions of feelings and emotions, through actions and body language and through formal channels. We communicate about our personal lives, about our lives as members of communities (for example school groups, sports clubs, interest groups) and about our work. We need to do the same in business.
Make sure you directly work with your communicators
There’s a lot of debate about which area the communications team should be in, Marketing, HR, business development, CSR, media departments. It doesn’t matter where they report to for accountability purposes. But if they are to be communicating the philosophy, vision and story of your company, you need to work with them directly. Some CEO have them in their own office, some even find communicators are great on executive teams, because the nature of the role means that they have broad knowledge of the external environment and detailed knowledge (after a short time) of what’s happening in your organisation. Again, these options aren’t that important. What’s important is that you ensure they are communicating your philosophy and vision for your organisation, so wherever you base them in your structure, make sure you are very involved in their work.
Some thoughts from others I have used for developing a communications philosophy
And to this day, most institutions look at public relations as their trumpet and not as their hearing aid. It’s got to be both.
Peter Drucker (As quoted by Seitel 2004)
We were searching for employees, but people turned up instead
Anita Roddick, Business as Unusual 2000
Any media criticism or analysis is always simplistic by its nature and adversarial. You don’t get a balanced view of things. It’s either winner-loser, hero-disgrace in the media. As we all know, that’s not the way it actually is in the real world.
Eddie McGuire, former CEO Channel 9 (Australia)
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead … I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.
The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, 28 August 1963 Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
This blog was first posted on Geoff’s Gobbledegook, Geoff’s personal blog site provided through the International Association of Business Communicators Xchange blog program