Do you know how your company makes money?

004-1205110916-printing-moneyBeing a business leader is more important than being an employee communicator, according to a new research paper from the Institute for Public Relations.
Entitled, 'Best-In-Class Practices in Employee Communication: Through the Lens of 10 Global Leaders,' the paper features in-depth interviews with leaders of 10 top global corporations, and is now available free on the IPR website
"It's imperative that chief communications officers understand the business objectives of their organization," says Keith Burton, partner, Brunswick Group, and one of the paper's authors. "Otherwise, we'll never build credibility. While this seems fundamental, it's clear that as we talk to CCOs about the most important skills and competencies for the future, they ALL speak to being a business strategist."
Another of the paper's authors, Gary Grates, principal, W20 Group, added: "You have to know how your company makes money."
It seems to this me that understanding the business of an organization's business, being able to read a balance sheet and grasping the importance of a penny rise or fall in a company's stock remains the Achilles Heel of the PR industry. Whether it's employee communications, publicity or social media, far too few PR practitioners possess the business and financial acumen to truly command the respect of the CEO and CFO. And, therein lies the importance of this new work from IPR.
Other key findings of the IPR research include:
– The importance of listening, and establishing listening posts within a corporation. Burton says, 'The best-in-class companies have learned to focus on their audiences over the growing array of channels and vehicles available to them,' he said. Burton quoted the top employee communicator from FedEx, who told the IPR team, "It's not social media needs. It's not Facebook. It's not Twitter. It's not LinkedIn. It's the audience. What does the audience need to be effective? That's what we focus on."
– As for listening posts, Burton says great companies value feedback and view it as a gift, whether it's good or bad. They conduct regular engagement studies. They 'pulse' employees through focus groups, and challenge teams and online communities to test message platforms and programs. At J&J, for example, the men and women who live the values and beliefs enumerated in the company's historic credo are called 'Credo Champions' and tasked to listen, communicate and carry what they've learned back to their leaders.
The IPR paper also stresses "relentlessly reinforcing message platforms and the path forward through a dedicated content strategy and using measurement and key metrics to prove that employee communications programs are helping the workforce achieve key objectives."
In addition to FedEx and J&J, participating corporations included: Cargill, Chevron, GE, IBM, McDonald's, Navistar, Petrobras and Toyota.
Burton and Grates are part of the IPR's Commission on Organizational Communications, which authored the paper. Other members include: Bruce Berger, Ph.D., Professor of Public Relations and Advertising, University of Alabama, Peter Debreceny, Consultant, Gagen MacDonald and Frank Ovaitt, President and CEO, IPR. Execution of the research was led by Colleen Learch, Vice President, KRC Research.
The paper is the first of three major IPR initiatives in 2013 and '14. (Note: the qualitative results will be followed by a quantitative survey). The second project is entitled 'Building Organizational Clarity.' The final one will take a deep dive into the role of generational differences and how they affect engagement and employee communications.
I urge all Repman readers to review the report. In addition to providing a fascinating glimpse into the best employee communications practices of 10 global leaders, it also reinforces the fundamental challenge facing the entire industry: when (and how) will we become true business leaders?

7 thoughts on “Do you know how your company makes money?

  1. Frank, thanks so much for the comment. I must admit that, while I’ve always respected employee communications professionals, I never saw the position as being the shortest, most direct route to the C-Suite and C-Suite acceptance. In addition to providing a valuable contribution to the industry, you’ve also opened the eyes of one, self-proclaimed expert who always assumed the CCO role was the ExPress Lane to the C-Suite. Thanks again.

  2. Having started my professional life in employee communications – and throughout my corporate career working for companies that held internal comms to be an essential element of public relations/corporate communications – I fully subscribe to the notion that this could be the shortest route to acceptance in the C-Suite. A shout out to the members of the Commission on Org Comm (including Bruce Berger, Keith Burton, Peter Debreceny and Gary Grates) and to Colleen Learch at KRC Research for making this study happen.

  3. Yes! Especially in today’s environment where such a premium is being placed on talent recruitment and retention.
    Great business strategies need talented people to execute and deliver…that equates to CEO tenure!

  4. Great point, Gary. Could the case be made that since it IS so intrinsically linked to a corporation’s performance, the shortest route to acceptance in the C-Suite is via employee communications (as opposed to PR, social media, etc.)?

  5. One important point about the research I’d like to add is this: The research indicates without a doubt that internal communications is a senior management function and leadership priority. Effective internal communications leads to engagement which leads to competitive advantage.
    If you want to know how a company manages, understand how it communicates. If you want to know how a company communicates, understand how it manages. They are inextricably linked!
    This study is certainly a break-through for the profession…kudos to IPR and my colleagues on the Organizational Communications Commission!