The free ebook published by IC Kollectif, Disrupting the Function of IC: A Global Perspective, provides a rich source of insight into the forces at work in the internal communications industry today. In this eight-part series, I’ll be taking a deep dive into each chapter of the book, bringing you key takeaways from its 30 renowned contributors. Today I’m examining Chapter Four: the Leadership Role of IC Professionals.
In today’s decentralized media environment, it’s clear that presiding over any organization’s communications requires some serious leadership skills just to get the job done. But how do those skills apply to other arenas within the workplace? And what do communication leaders need to do to shape the culture of communications at their organization?
The experts assembled by IC Kollectif provided a wide range of recommendations for communications professionals to own of their leadership role. For me they boiled down to four key takeaways:
1. Understand the business
To step into a leadership role, communicators need to focus on outcomes. “There’s a great opportunity for internal communication to be more than just a dispenser of corporate soap,” says independent consultant Stephen Welch, using the metaphor of a soap dispenser to illustrate that internal communications professionals need to do more than respond to executive pressure or help leaders wash their hands of a problem. He advises that communicators can start by getting clarity on what outcome is desired from our audiences, and then adjust the solution accordingly.
2. Collaborate across the organization
The best way to develop that deep understanding of the business is to embrace our natural function as connectors across different teams and departments. Communications leaders see their mission as bigger than just their own communications platforms, argues Dr. Amanda Hamilton-Attwell, CEO of Business DNA. They make it a point to network with business leaders and colleagues to create rich experiences and effective communication all throughout the organization. This requires a deep understanding of desired business outcomes, the ability to connect multiple departments, and the skills to facilitate manager communications themselves.
3. Improve manager communications
A number of the experts in this chapter proposed different approaches to the same idea: we make our fellow leaders better by helping them communicate. Barbara Fagan-Smith, founder and CEO of ROI Communications, argues that communicators today have a critical task. “It is more important than ever for those organizations to unite their people with a sense of purpose, with the feeling and belief that they are connected to each other in meaningful ways, striving for worthwhile goals, and doing work that is making a difference in the world,” Fagan-Smith writes. One of those ways is making sure the manager-employee relationship is clear.
Australian communicator Tanya Dunning makes the case that communications professionals help make leaders better communicators by their central task of building trust. “Trust is built when a leader is reliable, accepting of different views, open and congruent between words and actions,” she writes. When there is a gap between words and actions, or a lack of openness, communicators have the tools to help leaders close that trust gap.
4. Make it measurable
Whether working with leaders to close a trust gap or building a sense of common purpose throughout the organization, the tools we use are strongest when they provide clear metrics of success. Dunning suggests that communicators push their leaders away from instinct-driven to data-driven communications engagement. Fagan-Smith even argues that effective manager communication actually predicts increased financial performance. “And yet,” she says, “the majority of organizations don’t have a structured approach to improving it.” We should be creating clearly defined communication roles and responsibilities, defined competencies during hiring and review process, and measurements to hold managers accountable.
By cultivating a deep focus on outcomes, collaborating across the organization, helping leaders become successful communicators, and ensuring communications efforts are measurable, communications professionals can prove themselves indispensable leaders within their organizations.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Disrupting the Function of IC, where I’ll share my thoughts on Chapter Five: Employee Advocacy.