I spent the evening tonight with a group of colleagues. Colleagues may be a slight exaggeration however, as I’d never met any of them before but one thing we all had in common was that we’re all communicators. I enjoy sitting in the room with the sharp minds of communications professionals mostly because I realize that I’m not alone in my struggle. Together, we beat the drum and raise the flags that as professionals within our organizations, we never have the resources we need to meet the expectations upon us.
My takeaway this evening was about managing up and adding value. Important as it may seem, managing expectations is a core function of the communicators job. The disparity between what c-suite executives believe in what can/should be done versus the on the ground capacity to deliver continues to grow. In the military, it’s called a ‘commitment capability gap’ and its a challenge for overextended leaders in a variety of sectors, but nowhere more uniquely felt than in communications. The resolution however remains a murky fog on the best of days.
One of the participants, Terry Flynn left us with some great insights. Namely, something that I’ve always espoused (having learned eagerly from a communications savvy CEO in my past) is that communicators need to focus less on the tactics and more on adding value to the organization’s strategy. This is not to say that the tactical outputs are not brilliantly important, simply that there is a ‘foot in both camps’ relationship that must be struck.
On the one hand leading a communications team requires a depth of knowledge and sophisticated understanding of a vast array of products, tactics and communications tools. Conversely, we must also complement this breadth of knowledge with a depth of operational understanding that extends across the entire organization.
Matrixing value both horizontally and vertically, becomes the true integrating factor. As Dr. Flynn points out, the last business unit that felt this sort of pressure was the HR departments. Together as a community of practice leaders, they have used professional designation and academic credentials to climb out of operational obscurity as ‘personnel departments’ into strategic arms capable of contributing to the operational goals of the organization.
To achieve this however requires more information for the communications leaders and the ability or resourcing for that person to spend the time in the right places to gather that information. It also requires significant trust in the communications leadership within the organization to ensure that programs and initiatives are rolled out with all of the right information. This, in my experience, is not always the case.