The Insiders’ Guide to Employee Communications

By Poppulo

Table of Contents

How to prove your value and become a strategic advisor

There is increasing pressure on internal communicators to move from being tactical practitioners to become more strategic players, with a clear eye on achieving business goals rather than pushing out content. Here we focus on how to make that shift and add strategic value for the C-suite.

1. First, the barriers

Unfortunately, many people in Internal Communications (IC) believe they are perceived as not adding value. They also argue they don’t have enough time to be more strategic, that they’re too much “in the weeds” and their roles are reactive rather than proactive. You must tackle these barriers if you want to succeed.

2. OK, so what to focus on first and foremost?

Number one – absolutely Nº1 – is make a positive business impact. Communications should be about getting results, not activity. “Communication is not the end, it’s a means towards something else”. As one SVP put it:

I’m not looking for communication, what I’m looking for is you to help me get results that are different from what I’ve been able to get myself.

3. What senior leaders want to hear from their IC people

I want to add more measurable value to our organization.

I’d like to share with you what best practice communication functions are doing.

I want to be less focused on activity and more focused on results.

I don’t like being a cost center, I want to create value for us and I know a way.

4. An example of why leaders want to hear things like that

Our communication people are worried about the wrong things. I tell them about a business problem I’m having and they trot out the same activities. They worry about click-throughs, opens, mentions, share of voice, awareness and retweets. I’m worried about sales and gross margins. Where can I find communication people who can help us improve our business.

— SVP Marketing, Pharmaceutical

5. But there’s a more fundamental problem

How can IC possibly add value if either it doesn’t have a strategy or it has one that’s not aligned to overall business goals? According to communication expert Jim Shaffer up to 80% of what he sees coming out of communication functions does not support business strategy. The communication strategy must help execute the business strategy, or else why bother?

6. Align to business strategy and think differently

Focus on elevating your role from managing channels to managing communication systems, from activity to focusing on results, from being a cost center to a value creation center, from an information distributor to a strategic advisor.

7. But how?

Historically IC people have focused on managing formal communication channels (email, intranets, etc) rather than leaders communications – what they say and do – and systems and processes. But leaders communications have the ability to influence results at a level of 60-65%, systems at 30-35% and formal channels down at 5-7%, so there needs to be a disproportionate focus on where the biggest impact on results can be achieved, on leaders communications, not channels.

8. Get your leaders on board. Here’s how

It’s all about the numbers. Jim Shaffer cites a case study of a forward-thinking IC professional who wanted to introduce the concept of adding more value. She worked with the head of manufacturing to identify an opportunity, where a multi-million dollar investment had not produced results.

He believed the cause was down to people and communications issues. It was, and the results of IC intervention were dramatic: a 700% increase in ROI and 9% increases in productivity. And the role of IC was elevated as a result: “Leaders want to make their numbers, so when our leaders saw others getting the kinds of performance gains we were able to help them generate, they wanted more of the same.”

9. Conduct an assessment

After getting leaders on board, you need to do a value-to-cost assessment of your communication initiatives. CEOs love this and it proves you’re really serious about adding value and elevating the IC function.

10. Look at your competencies

It’s a given that you are a competent communicator, but how strong are you in areas such as change management, leadership, business and financial knowledge?

Are your consulting and business advisor skills adequate? If not, it’s advisable to beef up in these areas.

We’ve created this practical guide to help hone your business knowledge: Business acumen in Internal Communications: Why it matters and how to build it.

11. Build a business case

It’s important to think of IC as a business, so it’s important to build a value proposition and always keep in mind how you’re going to add value. One head of IC had a value propositions which was: we need to help the company either make money or save money. If it doesn’t do either, we don’t do that work. Smart thinking. See Poppulo’s blog: At long last. The rise of what matters in employee communications.

12. Start small, grow from there

  • Identify an opportunity to prove value and start with a pilot project that can be rolled out to the wider organization
  • Start where performance is poor, so the chance of success is greater
  • Do it where outcomes can be controlled, and not where they can be influenced by outside factors such as market fluctuations
  • It should be relatable to other parts of the organization so that success will generate a desire elsewhere for it to be replicated
  • Create a ‘pull’ for what you do, rather than a ‘push’ of things for you to do

This section is based on a Poppulo webinar with Jim Shaffer, CEO of the Jim Shaffer Group: How to measure success in business as a strategic advisor.

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