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What I would do with a research budget right now

As an internal communicator with a strong bias towards written communication and the use of survey research tools, I often have faced challenges from employers and potential clients over strategic and tactical preferences and precedents.

In many organizations, tactical priorities and the budgets attached to them are non-negotiable, with employee engagement surveys and management conferences being at the top of many companies’ untouchable lists and commanding substantial shares of internal comms budgets. In the same vein, insistence on cascading and the primacy of managers as communication channels can only be challenged at the margins.

The problem isn’t simply the insistence of clients on tired traditional tactics. It’s that we as a profession lack hard evidence with which to challenge these preferences in terms of communication effectiveness, nor in terms of Return on Investment.

While groups like the Institute of Public Relations are looking at internal communication measurement overall, as a practitioner, I have a need to get four specific questions answered – four things I would focus on if I had my own research budget, or at the very least, some ability to crowdsource from my position as an IC blogger with a bit of an audience:

  • What is the real relationship between organizational performance and employee engagement scores? There is more skepticism about whether and how employee engagement surveys play a constructive role in organizations, but in many organizations, improving engagement scores remain an objective that often gets assigned to internal communicators.
  • What is lacking is any real sense of whether improving engagement scores actually improves performance, or whether improvements in performance actually drive higher engagement scores. It’s a crucial question because if there is a real disconnect between employee engagement scores and performance, effort to improve the scores could either be a waste of time, money and social capital that could be better dedicated elsewhere. It’s also a challenge because many practitioners and clients have conflated employee engagement and internal comms.
  • What is the relative ROI of different types of IC interventions: management conferences, Organizational Network Analysis and mobile applications?
    Management conferences, where companies tend to gather their top 100-500 managers in a hotel conference room somewhere, are nearly universal. But the cost they involve is substantial. To physically transport, house, and feed 100-500 people for 2-3 days is a six-figure or seven-figure undertaking, not to mention the cost, time and process involved with developing content that is entertaining enough to keep the snoring in the conference hall to a minimum.

    But what is the actual business case for a management conference? How does it compare to other investments of comparable cost: organizational network analysis and internal mobile applications, to name two with potentially seismic impact, particularly in the context of specific business goals. And, in terms of ROI, if you are going to insist on having management conferences, who are the right people to invite?

  • Can frequent small-sample surveys deliver useful data while minimizing “survey fatigue?”
    “Survey fatigue” is unquestionably a disease. But while most cite it as the unwillingness of employees to complete surveys, I see it as more pernicious condition where organizations refuse to conduct essential research, and then act or block action knowing that the research essential to driving good decisions is missing.

    A way to bypass survey fatigue involves reducing the numbers of people approached for each survey. Small samples tend to be less valid statistically, but the question is whether they are valid enough to conclusively recommend them as an alternative, particularly when the alternative is to act (or not act) based on managerial judgement or sense of smell.

  • What is the connection between written internal communication and word of mouth?
    I see this as the ultimate question facing internal communication today.

    Far too often, written internal communication efforts are killed or marginalized because of a belief “that no one reads that shit.” With readership and “eyeball” figures often being unspectacular on their face, research needs to document the relationship between the content, the people who actually read it, and their influence on organizational conversations.

    This is research that can be done in different ways. Measuring changes in behavior, or tracking least awareness of issues injected into an organization through intranet or newsletter mentions reflect one approach. Tracking the recall, acceptance and rejection of official terminology among readers and nonreaders represents another. I’ve long contended that written internal communication is the fastest and most effective way of changing and directing word of mouth in organizations, yet intuitive beliefs about its value often prove hard to overcome without bulletproof evidence.

Could we get this done?

Much of this research is orphaned – while definitive answers to these questions would help the IC profession immeasurably (not to mention my own prospects as a practitioner, fessing up to my compelling self-interest here), no one alone has sufficient business imperative to sort all of this out in one go. But even one-company examples could go a long way to reshape arguments and make a case for investment in further research.

More importantly, common awareness of the weak points in our profession’s business case can strengthen the common will to resolve those weaknesses and make a better case to the CEOs, CFOs, CHROs and Communication Directors who drive our scope and agendas. To the extent practitioners have the ability to ask such questions, we need to ask them. And to the extent to which the task is bigger, we need to challenge our industry bodies to commission the research we need to empower us to do our jobs effectively and demonstrate the value we add.

FREE BOOK OFFER: As another path to empowerment, my book, From Lincoln to LinkedIn, talks about the interactions between formal and informal communication in organizations and communities. Invoking ancient principles of political communication articulated by Abraham Lincoln in 1840, I look at how identifying, connecting and mobilizing informal leaders can drive social and business communication and results. For a free download, click here.

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Engagement? Awareness? How about Participation?

faculty-979902_1920One of the challenges of business communication is that the objectives can get a bit murky from time to time.

The longstanding pursuit of “engagement,” for instance, is the result of a term being exalted beyond its operational or actionable meaning – engagement is often being sought for its own sake without a direct connection to specific objectives.

The pursuit of “awareness,” another mainstay of business communication, also is often seen as a goal in and of itself, without any direct connection to the achievement of any outcomes.

A lot of energy is being expended at the moment on the measurement side of our profession to try to justify the value of activities designed to drive “awareness” and “engagement” – but it strikes me that there is a term that better describes what we are really trying to drive, something more tangible, practical, measurable and impactful:

Participation.

The consensus definition, of participation is “to take part.”

Participation means conscious behavior – not mere awareness but the willingness and action required to do something, or, equally important, to not do something.

When I floated the question of “how would you define participation” on a number of my social channels, I got a mixed response. Most said participation had to be “positive” in tone. But in viewing participation as a matter of being conscious rather than of being constructive, there is far more scope to make an impact.

Organizations are doing tons of things at any given time. To invoke the memory of departed actor and US Senator Fred Thompson, “sometimes you have got to lead, follow or get out of the way.”

All of these roles – leading, following, or getting out of the way – require some conscious intention and action. They also reflect a basic inequality in each of our roles in the organization. Not everyone needs to do the same thing, not everyone needs to be informed to the same level of detail, and not everyone needs to be equally involved in everything. Participation is not an on-or-off condition, there are roles, degrees and levels of initiative involved.

Participation is at the core of democracy, but it is no less central to the functioning and success of businesses. Yet the vocabulary of internal and change comms has still to really hone in on participation as the real focus of organizational communication.

The push for measurement of organizational communication activity can be most easily met by shifting its focus onto what people actively do, and what people actively say, and perhaps tracking progress between these trends and success at achieving desired organizational outcomes over time.

Beyond measurement and measurability, a focus on participation – and especially the need for differentiated participation on organizational issues and challenges – will bring business communication closer to the center of strategy execution than we have seen so far. Rather than simply informing people in the hopes of “engaging” them, supporting optimal participation is fundamentally aligned with delivering organizational objectives and the strategy for achieving them.

Which brings us to EuroComm in Copenhagen

As some of you may know, I’m a lead organizer for EuroComm18, the IABC regional communication conference for Europe – Middle East – North Africa. It is no accident that the conference theme is “Communication, Technology, Participation” and that the conference will take place in Copenhagen on 9-10 April.

Participation is a respected concept in the Nordics. It pervades not only the political world, but also communities and large business enterprises. Nordic leaders and thinkers see employees as citizens to a large extent, and expect conscious alignment as opposed to mere compliance. Local technologists are in the forefront of developing technologies and platforms for smart cities and social, health and business applications that harness participation at individual and communal levels.

In short, Copenhagen and the Nordics are pretty much at the intersection of “communication, technology and participation” and EuroComm18 is intended to offer opportunities to explore how we can integrate and elevate these levers to create better outcomes.

If you want to participate, click here.

If you feel inspired to speak, apply to be one of our conference speakers here.

 

 

 

 

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The annual Changing The Terms holiday poem

Another year, another poem.  That’s how we do it in Delft.  My take on 2017 in the world of Internal Communication.

 

Soon we say goodbye

To 2017

Another year passes

On the #internalcomms scene

 

This year was one

Where we became more effective

Thanks in large part

To IC Kollectif

 

We’re even more global

More than we planned

We span the globe

From Chile to Kazakhstan

 

Things seem to have improved

From videos at random

To ambassadors and influencers

Working in tandem

 

Social analysis

Is not just an appetizer

With more great cases

From the crew at Innovisor

 

And soon #IC

Will break the laws of physics

With strategies

Turbocharged by analytics

 

In 2018

Our tribes will gather again

In Montreal, Berlin

And Copenhagen

 

There will be others

But these are where to come

World Conference, the Summit

and an amazing EuroComm.

 

For those who can’t go

Here’s what’s next best

2018 will be

The year of podcasts

 

With Shel,

Chuck’s Chats

Engage for Success

 

And up-and-comer

Dan Thomas

They’re

Some of the best

 

Change is coming

In 2018

New developments

On the IC scene

 

And for those in whom

The IC flame burns

The happiest of holidays

From Changing The Terms.

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Communication, Technology, Participation: The case for #EuroComm18

cph operaThe world in general, and Europe in particular, has no shortage of communication conferences. With its registration now open, #EuroComm18, IABC EMENA’s annual regional conference, intends to be fundamentally different in powerful, engaging and connective ways. It will take place in Copenhagen on 9-10 April.

The new thrust will combine EuroComm’s traditionally unique position as Europe’s major regional practitioner-led conference, with a newfound openness reflected by the inclusion of a one-day Open Space event, and by IABC EMENA’s intent to partner with other regional communication groups in the Europe – Middle East – North Africa region to expand EuroComm’s reach and impact.

Open Space, for those who don’t know it, is the most powerful event facilitation technique I have ever experienced. Rather than deliver presentations and lectures from a pre-set group of speakers, Open Space events start with the circulation of a question, and then consist of a day of discussions and workshops aimed at addressing the question, conducted by participants on the day of the event.

Open Space events produce deliverables and action lists that participants take on.  They fully engage participants, connect new people in substantial ways, and often lead to new initiatives and realities unimaginable before they occur.

As the EuroComm18 Open Space will take place on day two, the participation will be informed by a day of more formal presentations, workshops and keynotes to kick off the event. EuroComm18 has generated considerable speaker interest already – and I hope that a primary aim of the selection process would be to make sure that each speech connects the three elements of the communication-technology-participation triangle.

In no small part, the focus on communication-technology-participation is reflected in the choice of Copenhagen as EuroComm venue.

The Nordic Countries have achieved immense degrees of citizen participation, and Nordic workplaces have a reputation for being more participatory than their continental or Anglo-Saxon counterparts. The participatory nature of a culture, in turn, drives communication culture and it also drives the basics – dialogue, channel choices, and tone being most obvious. Technology, in turn, can be used to broaden the base of participants, or narrow the list to those who are most influential.

But this isn’t simply a show-and-tell opportunity for Nordic practitioners and communicators. It’s also an opportunity for communicators in EMENA and beyond to share, formally and informally, their own approaches, philosophies and solutions.

EuroComm18 represents a moment to create a new, fresh conversation about IABC in the EMENA region. In offering a revenue-sharing partnership for the event with national and regional communication groups, IABC will use EuroComm a means for connecting with national PR, internal communication and other practitioner groups, while offering a special discount to participants who belong to these other communication organizations. This approach represents a notable cultural shift for IABC and bodes well for its future in the EMENA space.

While EuroComm’s fees are well below those of commercial conferences, the willingness of top speakers to speak, and of member-volunteers to run a world class event have always made EuroComm one of the year’s most valuable comms events. With its emphasis on participation and inclusion, the aim is for EuroComm18 to the year’s most compelling regional communication event.

Mike Klein is IABC EMENA Regional Vice Chair and is an organizer of EuroComm18.

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Will the receding internal-external wall expand IC’s horizons?

wall

One of the perennially hot topics in the world of internal communication involves the extent to which it is converging with external communication.

Indeed, there is a strong belief that, as expressed by Cameron Craig in this year’s IC Kollectif E-Book, ”Disrupting the IC Profession” that “the wall between internal and external audiences has not just come down, it has imploded.”

Even though social media and the accelerated speed of word of mouth have made it harder to keep internal and external messaging separate, the distinction between internal and external populations is be,coming even more important – and less obvious to the naked eye.

Historically, “internal communication” referred to communication focused on employees, and “external communication” focused on all other stakeholders: customers, potential customers and government officials in particular.

Why internal communication is bigger than “employees”

Indeed, Shel Holtz, longtime internal communication expert, recently challenged the profession to shed the name “internal communication” for “employee communication” to reflect this traditional distinction and appropriately honor the central role of the employee.

But shifting the focus to employees ignores a prevalent trend at the heart of nearly all businesses today: that the “work” of the company is increasingly being done by people other than employees, and that there is a larger and increasingly diverse group of people whose participation in the organization is critical to its success.

In any office or factory or distribution facility today, you will likely see different color identification badges. One color for employees, for sure. But another for contractors, and another too for “visitors” whose ranks may include consultants and others more casually on the company payroll.

From “work” to “participation”

The definition of “work” itself is shifting as well. Promotional work in many sectors is as much done by happy customers on Instagram, Facebook, TripAdvisor and the blogosphere, and some of those advocates may even maintain direct advisor relationships with actual employees.

So, instead of the main distinction between internal and external audiences being the extent to which they are “owned” by the organization through employment contracts, it is now more of a function of the extent to which they participate actively in the organization’s value chain.

This means internal communicators have an opportunity to seize.

By recognizing a shift in the internal population from employees to participants, and by considering that channels and voices outside of an organization’s ownership have a role in influencing organizational participation, the opportunity emerges for a more strategic, dynamic and influential role for internal communicators. The wall between internal and external messaging may have imploded, but in so doing, its fall has opened a new horizon for far-sighted internal communicators.

 

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The future of IC: now published on IC Kollectif


IC Kollectif has republished my speech on the future of internal communication at last week’s CEB-Gartner summit in London, where I challenged attendees to address four pivotal questions. 

These involve looking critically at our approaches, assumptions and priorities in terms of strategy, engagement, technology, measurement and executive sponsorship. 
The speech can be found here, at IC Kollectif.

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Manager Comms: role modeling beats training, according to CEB-Gartner conference finding

Manager Comms

The long-lumbering push for line manager communication training as an internal communication panacea may be in its death throes, according to a survey conducted among participants at this week’s CEB-Gartner Internal Comms Summit in London.

When asked their opinion about the best approach for improving manager ownership o their communication role, training for line managers came in fourth with 18%, while role modeling and observation of role modeling came in first and second with a combined total near 60%.

Although this finding came from a flash poll at a conference, the significance of this result should not be underestimated. CEB-Gartner attendees are mainly serious in-house professionals who come from companies that have budgets to spend.  And 82% think the future of manager communication involves priorities other than old-school manager training.

Conversely, as the power of role modeling is magnified by the sharing of stories and positive behaviors, these results should give heart to those pursuing better use of social and informal approaches as primary communication channels.

Could the future of manager communication be less focused on hierarchy and more focused on lateral conversation and observation? It just might look this way.

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Strategy, strategy and strategic: the difference and why it matters

strategy

Strategy is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to Internal Communication. Partially, that’s because there are three seemingly related terms which mean different things.

My focus is on “using communication strategy” to help achieve desired outcomes by focusing the right activities on the right people.

In contrast, “communicating strategy” has to do with “communicating the company strategy to all employees,” usually on an indiscriminate basis.

Another take, “being a strategic communicator”, does not actively involve the use of communication strategy, but has simply become a term describing a presentably professional communication pro, as spelled out in this piece by IC publisher and author Katie Macaulay.

Why is this distinction important?

These terms sound very similar. They are all commonly used by IC folk, and that lends itself to confusion and muddle. But if the value of internal communication is to be rejuvenated through greater use of communication strategy, it can’t be left to be confused with “communicating strategy” or “being a strategic communicator.”

Indeed, using communication strategy to refine priorities, target messages and sharpen delivery often runs counter to the traditional thinking embedded in “communicating the company strategy” equally to everybody. Use of communication strategy to define “guerrilla” or fit-for-purpose solutions may override the polished professionalism necessary to be Katie Macaulay’s “strategic communicator.”

But for communicators who want to have an impact on delivering better results, reducing overload, and making better use of the time, money and staff attention we commandeer, using communication strategy instead of inundating everyone can deliver the ninja advantagee.  And being able to make your intentions clear to those who matter is a critical step.

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Focus on the right numbers to revive your #InternalComms technologies

Soyuz_TMA-03M_and_Rassvet_(23926345665)

Over the last few years, companies and public agencies have spent immense sums on various forms of internal communication technology. While vendors trot out occasional success stories, generally disappointing use figures mean that the more frequent refrain has been:

“We spent allllllllll this money on this (app/video platform/intranet/enterprise social network) and no one f*)#!+g uses it.”

The refrain can mean different things to its different speakers.

For the app producer, it often means “Crap, we are going to lose our contract.”

A business sponsor may infer “it’s time to pull the plug, and perhaps chop the IC folks who proposed this.”

And the standard IC response tends to be “we need to promote this harder.”

Questioning the mass use case

Harder? Or maybe, smarter?

The core of the problem facing Internal Communication technologies is not that they’ve failed to achieve mass acceptance.

It’s that they were installed on the basis of mass use cases – on the belief expressed by overeager IC folks, and in some cases overzealous vendors, that “if you built it, ‘they (the mass of employees)’ would come.”

So, when actual use figures fall well below expectations, owners and stakeholders are quick to hit the fail button, off-board the platform, and overboard the staff.

But is anyone paying attention to who actually is using these platforms, and what value they can still add?

Rebooting your technology investment

If 90% of your employees are not using your platform, you can probably assume that most will never use it without a good reason to. But without any knowledge of who the 10% are and where they fit in your organization, you have no idea of what value your platform is currently enabling and producing.

So, the first step is to learn about your 10%, what they are doing, and how they are doing it together.

Are they a motivated department, random but committed individuals, or even your hidden network of influencers? And would they become less effective if this tool they use suddenly disappears?

It may be worth some investment in research before getting rid of a much bigger investment in technology. User surveys, organizational network analysis, or influencer identification could provide some real insights about the actual impact your platform investment is having in your organization.

The second step is to look at your organizational agenda, your change agenda. Are there teams, projects or initiatives that can pursue their objectives more efficiently and effectively if connected through the platform you have at your disposal?

Once you know who is using the platform well, and how specific projects and teams can succeed by using it better, you now have a realistic use case.

Final thought – what most IC technology is actually best used for

In my view, most internal communication technology platforms are much better used as strategic tools to get the right messages to the right people, than as mass engagement/entertainment platforms. User value and ability to target high-value users is much more important than user numbers.

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What can M&A communication learn from a wedding in Iceland?

The Venue

As a freshly minted newlywed, I have been thinking about writing something about our recent wedding in Reykjavik. After seeing an excellent piece by Davis & Co’s Lily Murtagh cover wedding-inspired lessons for employee communicators, I decided to look at a very special niche, M&A communication.

M&A communication is a creature of rules designed to protect the integrity of other disciplines: finance and law to be specific. Laws and Stock Exchange rules, and rigid interpretations of those rules, block companies from gaining an early understanding of the key people “on the other side” and of their social dynamics.  Once allowed, interactions tend to be pressurized, defensive or forced, and focused mainly on where people fit into org charts, well into the formal transition phase.

But I saw a few things at our wedding that highlight opportunities that can potentially help M&A communication and integration:

The first thing that came to mind as I saw the beautifully mixed crowd was how well people were mixing together, with little introduction or facilitation. A majority of the attendees were Icelandic but nearly everyone was speaking English and making our international guests feel welcome. Similarly, in M&A situations where I have worked, people from both sides often get along very well in unstaged, informal situations.

Weddings are great opportunities to let tribes and tribe members find each other.  My trick of honoring the wedding’s occurrence on Belgian National Day (21 July) by smuggling in six large bottles of waffle-land’s finest brews instantly attracted a diverse but united group of Belgian beer enthusiasts from Iceland and beyond, and placed us all in a common conversation that led to some further tasting activity later in the week. In M&A situations, letting professionals connect on professional terms, and more broadly, letting employees discover new colleagues with similar interests can transcend the “us-and-them” feeling that pervades most mergers.

Minimizing formality and sectarianism in our ceremony was a real hit. In our ceremony, as we don’t have a common religion, we opted to have our ceremony conducted by Inga from the Icelandic Ethical Humanists. Rather than have a ceremony conducted in a language I didn’t understand, according to rituals we didn’t believe in, the “merger” was effected with laughter from stories about our first dates together and our pre-wedding experiences. In this vein, the ritual and language used in revealing corporate mergers could stand to be less one-sided and triumphalist, perhaps even more welcoming and reflective of human stories from “each side of the aisle.”

What would M&A communication be like if more of the “nice”, “human” parts of the process were allowed to take place before the tsunami of processes, formalities, surveys, and org charts is released onto two anxious and separate populations? If we can do more to bring people together early and help them build great relationships, can’t that help prospects for the more difficult processes that follow?

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Time to disengage? Two interviews.

Speech Audio Radio Mic Microphone Broadcast

The relationship between internal communication and employee engagement was the subject of two discussions published this week – a half-hour podcast with the UK’s “Engage For Success” movement, and the latest Chuck Chat, an interview written in real time with Chuck Gose, who makes a massive contribution to the #internalcomms tribe with his podcasts, postings and interviews..

The podcast can be found at BlogTalkRadio, and the interview can be found on the blog site of Chuck’s sponsor, Bananatag.

For me, it’s heartening to continue to get air time for the idea that internal communication and employee engagement have become too close.  As I see it, internal communication is strategically handcuffed by the need to align with employee engagement’s focus on shaping and measuring the attitudes of all employees. In turn, the internal comms-driven drumbeat for ever-higher engagement survey scores and participation stifles the development more tailored and individually “engaging” programming from the employee engagement community.

Whether this conversation will catch on is anyone’s guess.

Not so long ago, such thoughts could easily have been classified as heresy akin to “employee engagement denial.” Now, thanks to Chuck Gose and Exchange For Success, there’s a willingness to sponsor and start the discussion, an absolutely critical and welcome step.  Please feel free to join in.

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What drives value?

dollar-exchange-rate-544949_1920This week, I am delighted to share Communication Director’s piece by Kenny Murdoch, international Chief Financial Officer, on “What Drives Value.”

As you may recall from last week’s post where I discussed tangible steps that a communicator can take to stake out a stronger position of leadership. One of the steps was “get one or two board-level sponsors who aren’t your boss or your boss’s boss.”

Kenny Murdoch was one of those guys, a CFO who championed communication during my time at Maersk Oil in Copenhagen. Indeed, the article below started with some conversations between us, as I wasseeking support from my C-level friends for the effort to make a stronger case for business communication in the marketplace.

Thank you for an excellent piece, Kenny. And thank you for being willing to publish and share it, Communication Director.

++++

The world of finance is focused heavily on results and numbers. But numbers alone aren’t enough: professional communications can help tell the full story. Based on observations made during his global career, one chief financial officer calls for closer ties between finance and business communication professionals.

By Kenny Murdoch

One of the great learnings in my career as chief financial officer has been about the value that professional business communicators can add to an organisation’s efforts to create value and deliver its financial targets.

I have to admit a strong inclination to believe in the importance of communication, and indeed of people, in driving organisational value. I actually had an early career interest in human resources before accepting the advice of a mentor to move into finance, and came to recognise that these two vital functions of the enterprise have become unnecessarily disconnected. Communication is often the bridge that connects the people side and the financial side, putting these activities into a more coherent context.

The world of finance in business is focused heavily on results and numbers. Cash flows, profits, losses, costs and valuations all add up to lots of digits on spreadsheets and screens. With such a quantitative tone to what business does, it’s easy to lose sight of what drives the numbers and how we can use all of the assets, especially our employees’ talents to help move them in the right direction.

I see the communication professionals I work with as playing crucial roles in three different ways:

  1. Supporting valuation

The role of a communication function in supporting and amplifying positive perceptions of what a company and its activities are worth cannot be overstated. It isn’t often said that valuation is essentially a price applied to the overall perception of something’s value, whether it’s a house or a company. It is critical that external stakeholders are engaged with the company’s strategy/vision, current results and underlying value proposition. Communication leaders and practitioners play an essential role in ensuring that a complete investor relations story can be given that enables a proper valuation of the company. Indeed, clear, transparent and professional communication can reduce uncertainty and thereby the perceived risk when investors, analysts and banks are reviewing a company.

  1. Accelerating alignment and innovation

Organisations are in a constant state of change, responding to market, technology and societal developments. Sometimes, required changes may be technical or granular. Other times they may need to be sweeping and dramatic. In all cases, internal stakeholders –employees at all levels need to understand what’s new, what’s changing, why things are changing and how the changes fit together.  There is a strong link between high employee engagement and improved company returns and value. The employees are the front line to the customer and have to be fully engaged and aligned with the company strategy.

Too many organisations just leave the communications role to front-line managers, who, more often than not, are untrained for this kind of communicating and who frequently have their own interests to protect. Making modest investments in professional communication support can deliver huge benefits in framing the big picture and ensuring that leaders and top influencers understand what’s happening. By giving context to why the story is being adjusted on a regular basis and helping keep the whole business moving in a common direction, professional communication support for change initiatives can pay significant dividends, reduce friction, increase employee engagement, accelerate alignment and spread innovation.

  1. Thought partnership

Communication professionals often have unique perspectives into looking both at the big picture and at how to make change tangible to people. They also have a capacity for connecting individual numbers and activities with the pursuit and delivery of larger purposes and ambitions. I’ve found that the communicators I’ve worked with have helped me see the broader implications of decisions, and have given insights into how we can better engage people inside and outside the company who have a stake in our actions and success.

 Working with communication professionals

During my time as a chief financial officer, I have been the executive lead with accountability to drive a company-wide transformation on the chief executive officer’s behalf. This was a multi-dimensional change initiative addressing the company’s key business processes along with its culture. It became clear to me that success would require a cohesive external story about how this would modernise the company, improve future results and deliver a coherent integration of all of the internal stories so that alignment was accelerated and conflict was minimised. Success of this project required a well-thought-out strategy, detailed planning, and an unwavering commitment from the leadership team not to sweep problems under the rug, but to address them and drive improvements openly and quickly. The communication function was deeply involved and essential in driving the process and cultural changes required.

Chief financial officers also have a major external facing role. The chief financial officer engages with a multitude of external stakeholders: shareholders, clients, government authorities, joint venture partners, banks and suppliers, to name a few. In my experience, it is essential that the communications professionals have a wide view of the needs of all the external stakeholders and support the leaders in crafting and telling the company story when engaging stakeholders externally. If communications are too internally focused, they will miss out on opportunities for creating major value for the company, opportunities which can emerge by getting stakeholders to see value for themselves in the company’s success.

Looking ahead, I see the chief financial officer role being that of an educated sponsor of communication and as an advocate who will testify to the benefits it can add – to drive required changes, to valuation, and to organisational coherence. And, in no small part, I see a large part of the value of the chief financial officer role coming from how a chief financial officer communicates with all stakeholders. The chief financial officer should play a central role in supporting their business communicators and in working together as partners in driving and expanding value creation for all stakeholders.

Kenny Murdoch is a global finance professional, with 27 years experience built in leading blue chip companies – Rolls Royce, Schlumberger and Maersk. His last role was as the chief financial officer for a global oilfield services company, Bumi Armada, that was publicly listed on the Malaysian StockExchange. A global executive, Kenny has lived and worked in eight countries.