By Gregg Apirian and Chuck Gose
We know the typical Chief Communications Officer.
They spend most of their time focused on meeting their near-term goals. They’re under pressure to reach, engage and activate their employees, to deliver an optimal overall experience that helps retain workers and offers real (and verifiable) results for their C-suite stakeholders. And while CCOs seek a “this company is a great place to work” seal of approval from the workers, they must also support their leadership’s strategic priorities for the business.
But are they keeping an eye on the future needs of their organization? Or worse yet, have CCOs fallen behind the times?
CCOs must approach internal communications the same way as a CMO. For marketers, creativity is the crucial element in every function, from social media and user design to event planning and all customer experience related aspects. If CCOs lack a creative vision that brings together innovative thought, design, and technology, then how will they inspire and equip their teams to deliver effective employee experiences
The Birth of the Creative CCO
In 2019 and beyond, it is a must for CCOs to foster a continuous flow of creativity. This starts with building a diverse team made up of data-driven specialists and “creatives” such as visual designers, copywriters, video producers, graphic illustrators, and web/mobile engineers. Team members may need to, and perhaps should, wear several of these hats and should continue to strive to improve and master their skills.
Just like the company’s customers, employee expectations and media habits are rapidly changing, almost on a daily basis. That’s why CCOs need to do more than just “reach” the employees. They need to engage and activate them. They need to build a connection through culture, communication, and technology. This means keeping pace with changing consumer-driven expectations of employees and the distraction of their daily media habits. Working creatively enables CCOs to understand these expectations and how to meet them.
In the marketing world, creativity comes in many forms: a big idea for an ad campaign, an original product design, a groundbreaking mobile app, or a new business model.
This often takes time and requires a clear intention. It demands a significant effort to ideate and develop concepts. It may take months, even years, of thoughtful deliberation along with insightful strategizing. Or sometimes it can materialize spontaneously during a brainstorming session. Regardless of the “how,” big ideas are expected in marketing. And this should be the same with employee communication, too. This means CCOs must not only be creative themselves but have a system to enable a process for creative thinking and innovation.
And finally, their approach should be evergreen and serve their company now and in the future. This demands a well thought out vision of their internal communications future-state. The right CCOs must consider what the employee experience looks like now and how they want it to look three years or even ten years out.
How can a CCO help creativity thrive?
One of the primary goals of the CCO is to deliver better employee experiences. This starts by fostering a creative culture (like the CMO) that allows the team to more rapidly come up with ideas and be more agile. To this end, the CCO should seek to be an inspirational leader. One who can motivate people to excel by offering a compelling vision to their team and give them the autonomy to execute it. And there will be failure. The CCO must not only tolerate failure but also support it. The creative vision should provide a sense of purpose along with the big dream. There needs to be a roadmap that will guide the team on how to achieve the goals as well as provide the roles each team member needs to play.
CCOs must also keep in mind the factors that get in the way of creativity. Sometimes fear within the team can inhibit the creative process. If people feel uncomfortable saying something silly or standing out, creativity can be stifled. And the fear of failure can completely stop the juices from flowing. On the other hand, fear can be a driver for some folks so it comes down to getting a read on the personalities of the different team members.
Creating a safe environment for the team is also important. CCOs need to make a place where fledgling ideas can grow. And help those fledgling ideas mature and grow into possibly the next big thing. And as a leader, CCOs should be enthusiastic and provide encouragement, particularly when there are setbacks. Effective leaders lift up their workers and remain optimistic and passionate about what they do. They find ways to reward and acknowledge the work their team is doing, sometimes designing employee recognition programs to celebrate successes. Remember salary is not the only reason people strive to achieve. The creative team members need to feel that their work is meaningful.
Leading a creative internal communications team requires CCOs to envision something beyond the traditional and mundane. It means nurturing a collaborative environment, allowing people with different skills to share and play with new ideas. Ultimately it is about putting into practice an approach where the team becomes internal marketers, communicating not just for today but for the future of the company.
Gregg Apirian, Sr. Director, Advisory Services, SocialChorus
As a member of the Strategic Advisory team, Gregg is responsible for developing and delivering a suite of strategic advisory services designed to help communicators plan, create, publish and measure content and experiences that build trust between employers and employees, drive employees to take action, and create working environments that feel like great places to work. Gregg has spent the majority of his career leading CX and EX agencies.
Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor, SocialChorus
I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I’m also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.