Former P&G CEO A.G. Lafley identified the critical job that only a CEO can do as linking the outside world (society, economy, technology, customers) with the inside world (your organization). One of the ways a CEO fills this critical role is to decide the business the organization is in – in particular, what you see as your “core” and where to invest for growth. (Click here to see his very thoughtful HBR piece on the subject.)
This critical job is a part of leading any organization – not just a company. The head of any business unit or function is also the only person who can meaningfully clarify for the organization – both department staff and the rest of the business – what role the department will play, what is its “core” purpose and activity set, and what activities and capabilities it will invest in for the future. While critical, this role isn’t typically that time consuming: a good vision will typically last a few years.
We’re at one of those points in time, however, where for most Communications teams, it’s time for a new vision, a fresh look at what our “core” is and how we’re allocating talent, time, and resources.
The “core” for most Communications organizations is influencing attitudes – the way people think and feel about something. We shape attitudes about very specific things like a company strategy or a new product as well as more general things like the company as a whole. So we define success through measures like reputation, employee engagement, trust, and tone/sentiment. And we invest in skills like relationship building, persuasive writing, and channel expertise.
But what if this “core” just doesn’t drive value for the business like it used to? Two things we’ve learned through our research over the last year suggest it doesn’t:
1) Attitudes represent on average just 27% of the drivers of stakeholder behavior, so even if Communications is successful in influencing them, some other factor will get in the way of impact most of the time. Those bigger behavioral drivers – accounting for the other 73% – fall into the categories of social cues (what people see their peers doing and the signals they receive from their environment) and capability (what people find doable and within their control).
2) Communications can actually have a big impact on the more substantial drivers of behavior: social cues and capability. Communication can increase visibility into positive peer behavior; communicators can also identify and help correct mixed signals. Communications can make many behaviors easier or more doable through the online channels it controls; communication can also clarify who is empowered to act.
There’s a better “core” for most Communications team: driving specific business results through behavior change. This builds very much on existing resources and capabilities, like digital and social communication channels and good journalism skills. But it will require greater focus on business acumen, problem solving before jumping to act, and deeper audience understanding. And most importantly, it will much more clearly connect the efforts of communicators on the team to tangible outcomes that clearly matter to the enterprise.
To learn more about our latest research on the subject, including practical tools and guidance for adopting this new core role, CEC members check out the full study on how to make the shift from changing minds to changing behaviors.
Heads of Communications can discuss this work with their peers at one of our remaining Annual Executive Retreats. They are also welcome, along with members of their team, to attend a Regional Briefing.
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