Only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals.
I developed a benchmarking database (covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees) of communication practices, and the link to organizational performance by identifying the #11ways communicators can contribute to performance. It turns out that high-performing organizations (compared to average ones), are:
- Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free
- 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
- Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences
- 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.
The idea was to develop a database to explore the connections between communication practices and organizational performance, and answer questions like: “what are the common communication practices that have an impact on performance? And are there things that communicators do which actually contribute to organizational under-performance?”Three in particular stood out:
The know-it-all leader and the know-a-little communicator?
Half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communications team to the role of a paper-boy or paper-girl: just delivering the message.
Indeed, some communications departments are referred to the SOS team : “Send Out Stuff”. If corporate leaders are devising the messages they’d better be good at it, but only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communications 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. But only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how and understanding was high.
Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people. Repeat: only a third of communicators admitted to knowing their own business. No wonder they don’t feel listened to.
High performing organizations are much better at this. Indeed: 71% of them say they think specifically about things form the audience perspective, vs 45% of average organizations. Bu there are other indicators too:
- Average organizations are 40% more likely to pack a lot of messages into their comms. High performing ones are much more parsimonious about packing messages into comms.
- Average organizations like to talk about themselves. High performing ones are more balanced: only five in eight say they like to talk about themselves compared to seven in eight average organizations.
- Average organizations like jargon: only 21% say they keep their language simple and jargon-free, compared to half of high performing organizations.
So the typical communication in an average organization is stuffed with messages, ‘all about me’, and has jargon-galore. Where as in a high performing organization, things are likely to be simple, clear and with two-way channels built in.
Storytelling has become de rigeur in organizations but it doesn’t mean all stories are good ones. High performers seemed to have cracked it by borrowing from Adam Smith and Henry Ford: half of them have developed a process for creating great corporate stories, vs only a quarter of average organizations.
Great stories don’t appear, they need to be created, to evolve and to have meaning. “Hwæt” is the opening line of Beowulf, the epic story that has lasted 1,000 years. Which of your corporate stories will last half as long?
The challenge, therefore, for communicators (and indeed any other functional expert acting as an advisor to senior leaders) is to do more to align their organization to make use of their professional knowledge. But 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’.
If you would like more information on #11ways benchmarking or more details on the possible solutions please get in touch.
Stephen Welch is past-president of IABC UK, currently working as a consultant. His expertise is in helping organizations with culture change, innovation, communication, leadership development and exploring the connections between behavior and job/organization design to understand how people in different jobs need to lead differently.