79% to 21%.
LinkedIn quick polls are hardly scientific.
But when they produce such a lopsided result, with nearly 400 responding, one can’t help but take notice.
In this case, I asked the question of communication professionals: Which of the following would you prefer: unlimited budget or unlimited permission.
79% opted for unlimited permission, while only 21% were seeking more budget.
I was taken aback by the results.
For the last year, I’ve been developing and delivering training programs designed to help communication pros secure more resources – more budget – from their leaderships.
Like how to turn words into data that can persuade leaders, and how to build business cases that demonstrate the substantial and tangible ROI that well-targeted communication initiatives can produce.
21% is still a healthy chunk of the market – and the nice thing about having budget as your main problem is that once a clear and compelling argument is made, either the budget strings get loosened, or you discover that the issue isn’t really a budget issue.
The quest for increased permission is more complex and challenging.
Indeed, the question of increased permission is one that cuts to issues that are deeper, more personal, and indeed, more systemic.
To a large extent, the issue of giving communication professionals permission to act – and deferring to their judgement – depends heavily on how they are seen by the leaders they report to.
Do your leaders see you as technically competent?
“How can they give us advice when they can’t get the menu right at the management conference”
Do they only see you as technically competent?
“He’s great at production but does he actually know anything about the business?”
Are they unwilling to see their business challenges as communication challenges?
“We don’t need to faff around with a lot of communication. We’ll make the change and tell people they need to implement it. What’s all the fuss?”
Do they want to listen to diverse perspectives when things seem “fine”?
“We have an 82% engagement score. We don’t really need to adjust the comp and bens system right now, even if there are some loud voices calling for it.
Do they really want to optimize alignment and performance?
“We’re looking for an exit and don’t want to start anything fancy right now.”
In other words, even when the communication solutions we can propose and implement are things that can deliver some business improvement, we fail to connect with whether leaders would see such improvements as possible, or worthy of their limited attention and bandwidth.
What’s missing when it comes to getting permission?
In my own in-house experience and in conversations with other comms pros since publishing the quick poll, here are some of the issues communication leaders encounter when unsuccessfully seeking permission.
Is the communication leader capable of achieving the desired result in return for the bandwidth, risk and budget they seek for their proposed intervention?
Can the communication leader claim sufficient gravitas – knowledge, presence and fluency – to be willing to make the case to skeptical leaders and address their resistance with fact-based responses?
Does the communication leader have a functioning knowledge of the organization’s actual objectives? Can they position their proposed interventions as easing the success of those actual objectives, rather than exacerbating the gap between their stated and actual agendas?
Does the communication leader acknowledge the pressures already facing leaders and the organization as a whole before providing solutions that could be seen as making already-difficult situations more complicated?
In a situation with an extended approval loop, is the communication leader willing to listen to, respond to, and accommodate the specific concerns of each approver without undermining the overall approach?
Does the communication leader have both the commitment to see their proposed solution through to completion and the willingness to fight through resistance to do it?
Is the communication leader willing to do what it takes by demonstrating the risks and costs of inaction instead of diluting or toning down the solution, or being the lone voice in the room standing up for their team, a specific stakeholder group or an unpopular but valid point of view?
What to do?
The major challenge for communication pros involves not only being conscious of their need to possess these qualities:
They also need to be able to generate each of these qualities consistently.
The good news is that while these qualities are often seen as “God-given” or innate, it is possible to learn, develop and generate them.
Where to begin?
A starting point could be to develop competence and confidence around identifying and collecting facts and data.
With a fact-based, data-led approach, the facts and data themselves can build a foundation of credibility beyond one’s record for tactical excellence, and a platform for engaging with leaders with confidence and getting access to conversations where clarity can emerge.
Interviewing skills, which facilitate listening by getting leaders to open up, can be the key to developing greater compassion – particularly when it comes to the hesitation some leaders have about communicating more openly and proactively.
As for commitment and courage, these two go hand in hand. When communication leaders start to take personal ownership of their organization’s objectives, it can fuel their resolve for taking the actions required to make sure those objectives are understandable and actionable, and for being willing to challenge leaders to speak and act in a way consistent with the pursuit of those objectives.
Avoiding the biggest pitfall – isolation
Pursuit of these qualities involves a combination of skills acquisition and increased self-awareness.
But many communication leaders work as “teams of one,” and funds for training and development are increasingly scarce.
These trends often leave communication leaders professionally isolated and buried in day-to-day work.
That can be an excuse not to carve out time to learn new skills, collect feedback that can improve self-awareness, and build deeper relationships with those leaders who can either free up permission or keep things constrained.
Communication pros, therefore, need to make sure they are keeping themselves active and networked.
Paid training and association memberships can clearly be helpful, and where those are inaccessible, making use of “free” webinars, publications and online communities can bridge some gaps.
Ultimately, if communication pros want more permission, they need to take the actions and demonstrate the qualities that would justify it.
If this doesn’t come naturally, then the key is to take advantage of the help and support that’s available to you within and beyond your organization.
My commitment is to support you in getting that help. Get in touch for a free consultation by emailing me at Mike.Klein@changingtheterms.com.