As members of a staff support function, communicators are no strangers to cross-functional collaboration. Nearly everything we do is in partnership with some senior executive with a need to communicate: an announcement or press release, a speech, an event, etc.
But there are two kinds of collaboration: (1) using our expertise to help someone else achieve that person’s goals, and (2) working with someone else to achieve our goals (or a mutual goal). For most of the communicators I talk to, it’s that latter form of collaboration that often proves challenging. For example, many of our members, especially those reporting directly to the CEO, are working to build a more agile organization – one that “leans into” and embraces change. This goal cannot be achieved without HR, and perhaps IT as well.
I’d love your help understanding why this collaboration can be so difficult. Here are some of the specific challenges I’ve heard most frequently:
- HR. Many communicators share an “engagement” objective with partners in HR. We also share an interest in leadership training, specifically around helping leaders communicate more effectively. And we are often co-responsible for shaping and preserving company culture.Many communicators work well with HR, but I also hear frustration with a very process-heavy approach to solving problems and with a poor understanding of what it takes to influence large groups.
- IT. The typical division of responsibility we’ve seen is that IT supplies the software for electronic communication (e.g., the intranet, company web site, newsroom, collaboration tools like Sharepoint) and then Comms manages the content. Conflict can arise over the selection and implementation of the software platform, where communicators may favor features (or event specific providers) that IT finds difficult to implement or maintain. I’ve also heard communicators frustrated in the process of defining “business requirements” and making a “business case” for capabilities they want. CEC members can read our advice on partnering with IT on the intranet.
- Legal. The challenge we hear most frequently relates to company use of social media. In regulated industries, this can present a hurdle to effective social media use, even in lower-risk areas like internal social media and external monitoring. Some report that crafting a baseline “do no harm” policy enables productive collaboration between Legal and Comms, at least in social media.
- Marketing. In many organizations, Communications and Marketing collaborate very effectively, especially around major events like a product launch. Marcomm and PR executives have long understood the benefit of “earned” media; some have more formally integrated in order to achieve better business results. That said, I also hear concerns about how the short-term focus of many brand managers and other product-level marketers can undermine longer-term efforts to build the company brand and relationships with external stakeholders.
I’m eager to hear your war stories – successful or not – from working with other functions, and any insight you have into why the relationship isn’t smoother.
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