The essential tools to become a leader

GE has taken steps to help its communicators not only assess their current performance, but also provide ways for them to further their career.

GE has taken steps to help its communicators not only assess their current performance, but also provide ways for them to further their career.

"What do I need to go to the next level and be a leader in this company?" That is one of the first questions from young communicators at GE, says Gary Sheffer, executive director of communications and public affairs for the corporation.

With a new tool designed specifically for communications staffers called the Communications Capability Guide (CCG), GE is taking time to spell out expectations and help the company's 500 communicators increase their knowledge and capabilities.

Anyone ranging from fresh faces to veteran executives can improve his or her skills with the CCG, which launched on April 2 after six months of research and preparation.

Starting with a 20-minute online self-assessment test, GE communicators can rate their skills in 17
areas, including public speaking, writing and editing, media relations, monitoring and measurement, branding, and employee communications, describing their level of understanding as general awareness, applied knowledge, skilled, expert, or strategist.

As they rate their current skills, staffers can also rate where they would like to be in the near future, based on their own timeline. The CCG then produces a chart showing where they are, where they want to be, and how they can get there. The latter is mostly in the form of the CCG's Learning Library, which includes articles and resources from GE and other partners, such as the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations Essential Knowledge Project.

Another resource is a Web page with the contact information of GE executives from various areas
of the company who specialize in certain areas - like crisis and financial communications.

"Because we were a function that was more spread out, we wanted to make things more intimate," says Jeff DeMarrais, director of media strategy and communications operations for GE, explaining the interactive aspect of the CCG. "It allows us to create our own social network within the company. Someone might have a problem, and this can loop them back into the discussion."

The CCG is also a way to explain the changing nature of communications at GE, and prepare communicators for the future.

"Communicators have to be strategic partners for their CEOs and other executives, and we really have to inform and influence the strategic debate inside our company," Sheffer says. "Based on that, and the changing nature of our jobs, I think we really needed to do something inside the company to help our communicators understand that and also work toward having those capabilities."

Starting in October 2007, communicators at GE put together the CCG, modeled after similar initiatives at eight other large, global corporations including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, and IBM. Seventy leaders came together in December to determine the 17 capabilities, and the corporation worked with VSA Partners on the design of the guide. Design-wise, the CCG is very GE-friendly with a GE-approved branding palette and images in line with current GE ads that also cross country and culture borders.

So far, approximately 15,000 unique visitors have been to the Web site, which is hosted on the company's Intranet, specifically the communications portal on insideGE. Personal information is not saved, but the CCG is available for communicators to come back and re-assess at any time.

"I've always thought you have to be a continual learner and a self-learner in this business to get better," Sheffer says. "And this is a tool that will help our people do that."

To introduce the CCG to communicators across the company, the team behind the CCG hosted a one-hour, open-forum, Q&A-format global webcast featuring Raghu Krishnamoorthy, senior HR manager for commercial and communications; Judy Hu, global executive director of advertising and branding; Sheffer; and CMO Beth Comstock. Each communications employee then received a desktop kit with information about the guide, as well as a "CommStrong" bracelet, with the link to the Web site. GE also provided an information kit to managers and gave leaders a presentation to use to host their own event about the CCG.

"Leaders in the company are expecting us to help them understand the new challenges for a company like GE, whether it's being more global, more technology-based, or more engaged with the people in the organizations that influence our company," Sheffer explains. "And the Guide goes into all of those areas."

Looking forward, GE is already planning version 2.0 of the CCG, which will include a greater focus on global communications, more social networking, and will incorporate feedback from the first version.

"It will have to continue to reflect the changes in the company and our strategic focus," Sheffer says. "I'm hoping that it makes us better communicators and I hope it develops skills we need to be effective today. But my main goal is to really use it to help the people that are already in the company... get better at their job[s] and feel like they can see a clear path to their next job."

Levels of understanding for communications strategy development at GE

General awareness
Recognizes comms tools and how they are used

Applied knowledge
Incorporates messaging into requested comms mediums

Skilled
Takes business goals and translates them into meaningful comms programs

Expert
Develops and executes multi-channel comms programs that further the company's business success. Works with a team to drive unified programs. Interacts with internal and external stakeholders to refine, improve, and bring plans to fruition

Strategist
Impacts the direction of the senior leadership team by having a seat at the table. Generates ideas to drive business growth. Advocates for strategy

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