Our latest research on Catalyzing Behavior Change through communication made its European debut in London at the end of June, hosted at HSBC’s headquarters. The executive retreat brought together over 30 Heads of Communications at global companies ranging from utilities and manufacturing to financial services and telecoms. So as you can imagine, this was also a fascinating cross-industry focus group for me as a researcher!
The mix of backgrounds in the room (from lifelong communicators, to engineers and business partners now turned communicators, and even a behavioral psychologist!) created a rich debate about how Comms can cope with the increasing demands on the function to deliver value in a complex communication environment. More is being asked of us as communicators, and we need to better connect our activities to business outcomes – as one member well said it: “we have to be 50% faster at everything with the same resources…it’s impossible to do, we have to work smarter.”
So how do we get smarter about demonstrating our impact on the business? Four themes stood out to me from our European member roundtable:
1. Mindset change does NOT behavior change make: we had an interesting discussion about changing attitudes and stakeholder mindsets vs. getting them to do something differently. Influencing attitudes (the “think and feel” part, if you will) is all well and good, but it is not worth much to the business if we can’t change the way stakeholders behave (the “do” part). To truly change behavior, we have to get better at understanding the full drivers of behavior and what motivates people to do what they do.
How CEC can help: We have put together a cheatsheet on behavioral psychology, to help you understand motivators of human behavior.
2. We need to teach ourselves how to listen critically: as one member put it “it’s not about telling audiences what WE want them to think, but about listening for what THEY need to know, in order to choose to do something, and WHY they would want to do it.” This requires us as communicators to PROBE continuously and get to the bottom of the root causes of why a desired behavior is not happening and what communications can do about it.
How CEC can help: Check out Six Ways to Build your Audience Understanding.
3. We need to build a different set of skills – less specialized on comms, more focused on business understanding: CEC’s competency diagnostic results (with data from over 1,500 communicators) show that the biggest skill gaps are around: business acumen, outcomes focus and critical thinking. No surprise that members in the room also identified these as essential skills to develop within the team, to teach our communicators to challenge ideas, and help business partners solve problems.
Luckily, CEC can help with several skill development resources: a) participate in our competency diagnostic to assess your areas of gap; b) check out CEC’s training and development resources for how to tackle those areas of development; c) join CEC and Intuit in a panel discussion on 26 July to learn how Intuit creates a problem to help communicators practice problem solving skills on a real business problem.
And, last but not least ….
4. We can learn a thing or two from our colleagues in Sales: our sister program the Sales Executive Council has made HBR headlines with its findings about the end of solution sales . We had an interesting discussion around what we as communicators can learn from insight-based selling. The trick is to demonstrate understanding of the business partner’s problem (see above point number 3) and deliver an insightful communication solution that addresses that problem.
Sound hard? CEC can help! We’ve created issue opportunity guides around common business problems (compliance, R&D innovation sourcing in new markets , operational excellence ) to help you get smart quickly for conversations with business partners.
Are there other common business problems you deal with that we should create opportunity guides for? Let us know in the comment box – we’re looking to build on these resources with additional guides.
The overall resounding theme from our European executive roundtable was that this is a journey for Comms, but an exciting one on the evolution to becoming strategic partners.
How about you? What excites you the most about focusing your team on changing stakeholder behavior? And what do you find scary about the idea – what will be difficult to execute? To join the debate with your peers, register for a regional executive roundtable near you.
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