Welcome to 2020. The first 19 years of the 21st century produced business innovations at blinding speeds. As we face the new year with optimism, we brace for more change. After all, business experts and trend-spotters alike are forecasting significant shifts in company dynamics.
The Spoils Go to the Collaborators
Re-imagining the employee and guest experience typically falls to siloed teams. Sales, Marketing and HR have very little to do with one another most of the time. However, that norm is changing. And it’s about time.
Shifts in the dynamics that drive business strategy are disrupting the traditional org structures and reporting relationships. In 2019, more CEO’s and COO’s saw the value in managing daily operations through mission-critical teams comprised of cross-functional leaders from multiple disciplines, including communications. This practice gained momentum this past year based on research performed by the Institute for Public Relations and reinforced by Page, a member organization for chief communications officers.
Internal communicators rejoice! This is great news for those who instinctively step out of their lane and work with operations colleagues on a regular basis. According to the Institute for Public Relations, “collaboration is the new core competency in employee communications and engagement.” More often, internal comms leaders are expected to demonstrate greater business acumen, be more deliberate in connecting communication strategies to business results and actively participating in strategic decisions.
Likewise, operators should not forget to include their communications partners at the earliest stages of decision-making or when forming teams to lead M&A activity or tackling thorny policy changes.
Cross-functional teams with special missions fit the bill. The benefits are many: such teams are more agile; they populate ideas faster, wrestle with dissent sooner and develop more effective and holistic strategies than when they choose to stay in their lane.
A by-product of this practice is that your company builds internal capacity for continuous improvement and change. They take on the role of in-house incubator of original ideas and the accelerator for innovation–the kind that builds a long-term strategic and competitive advantage.
The Front Lines are In the Driver’s Seat
New technology, the use of AI to deliver precisely what guests and employees expect and the speed of decision-making are forever changing the pace of work for all of us. We must hone our expertise to stay steps ahead of stakeholders and adjust to even faster communication cycles.
Sorry to tell you this, CEOs and COO’s: top-down communications alone won’t get the job done. You’ve lost ground to the voice of the masses who will tell you how it is. Online communities, forums and posts inviting comments mean that dialogue starts with the front line instead of the power brokers in the C-suite. Today’s business communication has taken on an egalitarian quality where employees and customers are leading the conversation, so monitoring chat rooms and collecting all forms of feedback puts pressure on your CCO and you to respond. Your employees and guests will not wait to hear from you before they make up their minds… they may not even welcome you to join their conversation, but avoiding the conversation is not a strategy.
Further, communication plans can’t be held hostage to the traditional “cascade” where the most senior leaders filter the message to the front line. The COOs, CEOs and CCOs who recognize this shift and use this leverage wisely can quickly proliferate cultural values, influence behaviors and gain advocacy at scale more effectively. Get on board or be left in the dust!
At the center of it all is the CCO, the keeper of corporate reputation, the standard-bearer for culture and consistency, whose primary raison d’etre is to define your vision and activate on your behalf.
Professionals in public relations, organizational communication and strategic communications must upskill, be willing to confront barriers to communication and work together consistently on sustainable solutions.
C-suite leaders, here are steps you can take to regain control over your message:
- CEOs, be the visionary leader who integrates all the workstreams performing comms roles for your company. Expect your CMO, even your CFO and CCO to be co-creators in the design of your thought leadership strategy. Expect your CCO and internal comms leader to imbed with your other strategy brokers if you want your results to have longer sustainable impact.
- Create more cross-functional teams and give them a clear purpose for being. Some will meet for a specific mission, others can be standing teams tasked with “the bigger picture.”
- Be proactive and take the lead in dialogue with your employees and customers. Insist that your CCO advise not only you, but your entire executive leadership team and other highly visible leaders on the most effective approaches and activations to reach their target audiences.
- Be diligent and disciplined about monitoring results of your communication strategy. A CCO worth her weight will know how to establish measurement, interpret results and link your communications strategies to ROI.
No more silos, this is the new normal. Happy New Year!