Communicators hold the key to an organization's value

Today, whether it is politics, public policy, business, or elsewhere, the role of communications is often undervalued.

Today, whether it is politics, public policy, business, or elsewhere, the role of communications is often undervalued.

Far too often, communications executives spend too much time doing damage control, trying to clean up a mess that could have been avoided if only they had more influence when the options were initially discussed and decisions were made.

In addition, communications is infrequently seen as a stepping stone to senior management. But communications is clearly good training for the vision, strategic thinking, and leadership that executive decision-makers must provide.

Communications is at the core of any successful modern organization - for profit or nonprofit, whether a public-policy enterprise, a corporation, or any other entity. Communications is key because it's about strategy, about image, and about bringing a vision and a mission to life and connecting with key audiences. Most of all, it's about persuasion.

Some organizations have a more powerful tool than others for achieving all this - their mission. An inspiring mission helps attract talented people, motivates employees, attract partners, interest the media, and inspire target audiences.

What key roles do communicators play in all this? What does top management want and need from communications? As a communications pro, and now as a CEO, I've found that there are eight important responsibilities. Not necessarily listed in order of importance, these eight points are what communications is about. The better you are at carrying out these responsibilities, the more likely you'll attain personal and organizational success.

First, communicators are the primary guardians and promoters of the organization's image and reputation - the most valuable commodity it owns. Call it reputation enhancement, image building, or corporate branding, it is the process of creating, nurturing, and sustaining a beneficial, rewarding relationship with stakeholders.

Second, communicators have the responsibility of promoting the president and/or CEO. While it seems self-serving, studies show that a good portion of an organization's reputation is attributed to the public image of its CEO. Many CEOs are not brilliant communicators, though most are pretty good at it. For many, it is a learned skill, not an innate ability. Many top managers learned those skills from their communications staffers, agencies, or consultants, and they are better and more effective as a result.

Third, communicators must provide top-quality strategic and analytic thinking. Once the communications executive lays out the strategy or contributes to the management team's strategic thinking, then come the sound communications skills and tactics. But strategy is needed before tactics. That may seem elementary, but how often do we see stunts and gimmicks masquerading as strategy?

Fourth, communications experts must provide cool, professional help with crisis management. This is where communications professionalism has to rise to the occasion and the communications pros have to be calm and effective under fire. This is a critical role. No other group or individual can do it without communications.

Fifth is a clear and consistent focus on results. No organization will truly succeed - or be satisfied - without a mutual understanding of what victory is supposed to look like and without regular assessments on whether you're getting there or not.

The next important role that communicators must play is giving good feedback to top management and the rest of the organization. This includes providing a reading on how things are going among internal audiences and also among external constituents such as policy makers, grantees, opinion leaders, and the public.

The seventh role is to engage in genuine team play. Most organizations recognize that team building is key to success. Communications pros must be strong and true partners in management team building. This means aligning with the organization's goals, not setting your own.

The last of these eight requirements is creativity and entrepreneurship. Creativity can come from any corner of an organization, but most often comes from communications people who know how to find the fresh idea in any strategy and bring it to life in a way that creates interest, excitement, and enthusiasm.

When communicators deliver on these critical responsibilities, everyone wins. Smart executives should expect these roles and responsibilities from their communications pros. And communicators should be able to provide them within the senior decision-making circles of an organization. That's the true value of communication.

  • William Novelli is the CEO of AARP.

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