‘’Why are communication professionals worrying about a seat at the table when they already have one hand on the steering wheel?’’
– Mike Klein, Founder and Principal, Changing Terms.
This is surely the quote of the year!
It challenges us to get on with our day. Working in organisations where today is different to yesterday which is different from tomorrow, we, that is people who lead and guide communication, need to get moving, lean into disruption, make things happen and claim new ground.
There is much that is new in people – data, technology, and content that does not neatly fit into pre-Covid responsibilities and structures. The lines are blurred so the opportunity is to claim it before someone else does. Every enterprise is different which means each opportunity will be unique. It is an exciting prospect.
Behaviour change is my favourite example of how the communication profession had its pants pulled down. Changing old and encouraging new behaviour is core business for communicators. But collectively we had done such a poor job in marketing our impact and value. The clever economists with the acuity and evidence-based models shouldered us out of the conversations at the big table. ‘’We’ll take it from here thanks’’, the economists might have said ‘’You go back to colouring in’’.
How about this time we, communicators, don’t let that happen again?
Let’s grab the wheel of digital opportunity with both hands and create a more influential role for communicators in a post-Covid World.
Digital technology is our best friend. It is destroying siloed structures and has democratised media production and distribution.
We can now “go direct’’ and create trusted relationships with customers, citizens and stakeholders. We can now create and distribute useful, relevant, and consistent content, and publish it directly through multiple online and offline channels to engage and inform our audiences.
Add in the “Covid Afterglow” from the robust performance of communication teams the world over and you can see that prospect for greater impact and influence are real. We just must decide to make it happen.
A report by Edelman into the future of Corporate Communication revealed that in 2014, 34% of Chief Communication Officers reported to the CEO. It is now 46%. 77% of the 250 senior communicators surveyed said that perceptions of the role of communications as a strategic business driver changed during 2020. 89% said that communication as a function was a top 5 area of internal investment. The report is available on the Edelman’s website here. It is well worth a read.
Now, math is not my strong suit but even I can work out that those numbers add up to whole lot of opportunity.
So just how do we stretch our legs to create our new future together.
Here are six priorities to ponder
- Seek forgiveness, not permission.
Do not wait to be asked. In the crazy, busy worlds we operate in, no one is thinking about us. They are paddling as fast as they can to keep their heads above water. It is time for communicators to get up out of our chairs (figuratively speaking) and introduce ourselves and our capability to the enterprise.
Do not presume that people know what we do and what value we can add. We need to find out what has changed and what is changing and how we can help your colleagues succeed.
That means investing time, effort and energy into relationships and reaching out to people we may not have spoken to before.
Communication is an enabling function. Enabling the success of your colleagues, who need to convince both internal and external audiences, must be our priority number 1
- Think differently about your team (and skills) and its role.
My thesis is this: the impact of digital technology will increasingly spread the need for communication capability to the edges of our organisations.
The work traditionally performed by central communication teams will become the responsibility for those who are closer to customers, citizens, and stakeholders. If the central comms teams seek to maintain control, it will result in unsustainable pressure. Governance will be key. The role of the communication teams will evolve from doing and directing to leading and educating. These teams need to operate as a centre of excellence in support of teams across the enterprise.
- Prioritise people and context.
Knowing, understanding, and delivering for the audience is the first, second, third, fourth and fifth most important task of any communication team. Putting real people at the centre of our work, grounds the discussion and provides clarity for better decision making.
We will also have to spend more time looking up and out, scanning for “icebergs” on the horizon. Context has and always be critical to effective communication but interpreting and translating that context for the benefit of your enterprise will become a higher priority for communication teams in the future.
- Step towards technology and data.
In my experience most of us got into communication because we like people and stories not science and maths. One of the downsides of digital technology is that maths and science can no longer be avoided.
If you want to make the most of the value of technology, you are going to have to learn new skills and step forward with a positive and curious mindset. Agile, multi-disciplinary insights driven teams will be the gold standard for any communication function.
Mike Klein – author of the quote of the year-hosts a community on Linked in called #WeLeadComms. Its purpose is to do just that. Then there are the industry associations and communities’ of practice where people share and to learn.
The future is full of scary sounding things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing and mixed reality. We are in unchartered territory.If we are going to wrestle the future to the ground, we are going to have to do it together. Trust me- no one has all the answers! This is a time for humility, sharing, questioning, and learning.
My company, contentgroup, has launched a global platform for government communications called the GovComms Institute. Its purpose is to create a community where people gather to share the information, experience and skills that will help them be better at their jobs.
Visit the GovComms Institute and access the abundant evidence-based and future-thinking communication resources.
6. Enjoy it
Unfortunately, I am a lot older than I used to be so my time participating and contributing to this brave new world will be necessarily shorter than it would have been 20 or 30 years ago.
My opening line when I talk to university students is to say how “dark” I am that they are sitting where they are, and I am standing where I am.
If we stay curious and strategic, we will add significant value. Forget any turf wars and adopt a servant mentality. We will prevail if we stay humble, keep it simple and keep our audiences at the centre of everything we do.
So, my fellow communicators, there is much to look forward to.