An article last September in Harvard Business Review on how hiring Chief Risk Officers led banks to engage in more trading of risky derivatives, not less, made me draw parallels with hiring internal comms managers.
The research suggests that “in appointing CROs, banks signalled to trading desk managers that they worked at a ‘risk averse’ firm, and that risk management was someone else’s job”.
It got me wondering whether appointing an internal communications manager serves as a similar ‘moral licensing’ to many managers and leaders – communications and engagement is being taken care of by someone else, we have no obligation to do it ourselves.
Unfortunately, this abdication of responsibility by management and leaders is a reality in many organizations, where they see the total responsibility for communication and engagement resting with solely with internal comms, and with no need for their own input and support.
More often than not, comms managers have to deal with such situations. What can we do to reverse the trend? Here are simple steps that I have in my arsenal. And no, they do not always work, but if I try them all, some of them do break through the glass walls. Trust me.
- Develop a comms strategy. Strategy that is meant to support business strategic goals. Spell it out clearly, identify how you are going to achieve it and where it will fail if you have no support – invite yourself to a senior leadership meeting and present it to them.
- Recruit the most senior manager to become a comms advocate. Invest time into educating your leaders on what good internal comms could and would deliver if owned by the business. Ask for reinforcement of the message. If this does not work, try next step:
- Create comms champions network among senior leaders. Ask them first to serve as a bouncing board and feedback panel. Continue bringing in and discussing comms issues with them. Before you know it you might have a strong group of supporters there. But remember, Rome was not built in one day, from my experience I start seeing results after at least 6 months.
- Talk comms in numbers to different teams. In some companies with a competitive culture I saw numbers work the magic, let’s face it, business understand numbers. Paint the picture of how a particular team’s comms (don’t) reach the audience, compared to how other comms behave.
- Involve managers in developing solutions. Once you have discussed the numbers and identified issues, leave the team with the question “what can you do to improve?” rather than jump in and offer a comprehensive recovery plan that YOU have developed and YOU will deliver. Do not take me wrong, do have the plan up your sleeve but do not volunteer it right away. Involve the team in creating and owning the solution. And if self-regulating movement does not perk up, try next step:
- Introduce a comms related performance objective into annual performance planning cycle. A simple “develop a stakeholder map and comms plan for your department” works magic. Line managers all of a sudden have something tangible to check on.
And if none of these or any other steps work … life is too short, do you really want to waste it in the job that is not rewarding? Start looking for a more fulfilling challenge!