The one area of corporate communications that CEOs are most concerned about getting right is internal communication. This is one of the findings of The CEO Communications Audit, a research produced by the Gandalf Group for the Luc Beauregard Centre of Excellence in Communications Research*, and presented in Montreal, last week, at the CEO Communication Summit.
Researchers conducted 33 interviews with Canadian corporate leaders and performed an audit of the CEO communication function and the role they see communications playing in their organizations. The interviews explored four themes in respect of corporate communications:
1. The importance of communications to their business plans;
2. The role of the CEO;
3. Social media; and
4. CEO advocacy relating to public and social policy.
The Importance of Internal Communication
Most business leaders researchers spoke with were reluctant to say that any specific aspect of corporate communications was less important. "However, business leaders tended to prioritize internal communications as the most important communications function. This would be understandable in that most of all organizations have important internal audiences (e.g. workforce) but not necessarily a large external audience (e.g. if they are not a B2C company). Yet even those company leaders that invest substantially in consumer-facing marketing communications still tended to say internal communications was the most critical piece," indicates the report.
"Many CEOs saw internal communications as foundational to successful external communications. The two work hand-in-glove. Many who spoke of the strategic importance of “corporate brand” discussed how internal communications was important to establishing the “values” or “culture” that would help reinforce the brand and how it is perceived by external audiences. A few CEOs discussed the importance of employees as “brand ambassadors” and how internal communications was therefore critical. More practically, CEOs talked about how internal communications helps employees understand not only their responsibilities in project implementation but the “vision” that is guiding corporate initiatives."
"Repeatedly, we heard from CEOs that the chances of successfully implementing strategic initiatives are greatly diminished if employees do not understand or know how to help support key objectives."
“Employees need to know the destination. Where are we going and why?”
The conclusions of the 40-page research report address four areas:
The Need to Elevate Communications to a Strategic Function
Social Media’s Impact on Business Decision-making Processes
The Importance of Internal Communications
Public Policy & Social Advocacy
On the importance of internal communication, researchers write: "IC is no longer seen along the lines of the traditional model of communications that has been the purview of human resources departments (i.e. with an emphasis on hierarchy, deployment, scheduling or compensation). CEOs believe internal communications is tightly linked with core business objectives. And internal communications works in hand-and-glove fashion with external communications, to guide those who tend to be more responsible for external communications."
"Internal communications is also the area where CEOs believe they have an important role, while other communications activities will be the purview of others in their organizations or trade associations. External audiences that CEOs must address include senior government decision makers, the media, industry partners and important stakeholder and shareholder groups. But the more frequent and seemingly more important engagement that CEOs feel they are involved in is with their boards, their membership (in the case of associations), senior leadership, middle management and front-line personnel. These are the key audiences CEOs must engage with on an ongoing basis and they take that role seriously.
Given these requirements, it is important for professionals that work with them to understand the needs that CEOs have identified:
To arrive at an essential message that is clear and overcomes the complexity of business issues.
To deliver that message in a compelling way.
To deliver a consistent message as widely as possible, on multiple occasions.
To deliver a core vision or story but in a way that is tailored to different audiences to ensure understanding from different perspectives.
The need for communications to allow for dialogue, to build understanding, be it in-person sessions or online with new tools that offer this."
The time has come for IC professionals to take ownership of their role as a leader. While Chapter 4 of the ebook Disrupting the Function of IC - A Global Perspective takes a look at this need and why this has become paramount to the practice, advice to practitioners to succeed in this new role is provided in other chapters as well.
A recommended read on the topic of IC leadership is the excellent blog post published earlier today by Mike Klein, in Changing The Terms, The leadership role of the communicator: some tangible advice, in which he provides concrete and useful advice.
*The Luc Beauregard Centre of Excellence in Communications Research was established within the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University to advance the strategic role of communications at the highest levels of organizational management.