The old adage, “I'm from Corporate and I'm here to help” is well understood for what it implies: Corporate help is an oxymoron.
It doesn't have to be. However, research indicates that a sizable gap remains between the value Corporate practitioners believe they deliver to their companies and the perception of practitioners within business units.
The principal driver of this disconnect is the certainty with which Corporate practitioners believe it is strategically important for all employees to know and appreciate the work of the total enterprise, and the equal certainty with which business-unit practitioners believe the overwhelming focus must be on what is most relevant and actionable and, therefore, focused on their business unit.
So what are we to do?
I believe there is a strong role for Corporate, though executing it successfully takes equal measures of substance and style. Here are five ways in which corporate can succeed:
Define your role and earn grassroots support. What's your purpose as it relates to the business? Strategic guidance? Talent management? Leveraging scale to achieve optimal cost efficiencies? Driving big enterprise-wide ideas? What are the needs in the units in which Corporate can make a meaningful difference?
Be high value. Corporate practitioners usually play two roles: one is executing purely Corporate activities (investor relations, executive communications, etc.) and the other requires some level of inter-dependency with business units (reputation initiatives, CSR, digital strategies, marketing support, etc.). In the latter category, Corporate ideally serves as an adviser and co-strategist. To earn its place alongside the business units, Corporate practitioners must be the best, most qualified practitioners in the company for the niches in which they advise.
Provide fact-based persuasion of the value of the corporate brand. It's a given that Corporate people will tell you the importance of their work. My experience is that business-unit practitioners are occasionally dubious, especially when the Corporate brand is different than the brand used within the unit. Sharing insights into the value of Corporate as practiced by companies admired within your general peer group can be valuable.
Enable higher value engagement with overlapping stakeholders. Each business unit has a fairly narrow relationship with its customers and other key stakeholders. Your company may contain units that have overlapping relationships with customers or other key audiences. When executed with the engagement of business-unit professionals, Corporate has an opportunity to leverage this multi-unit scenario into new, bigger, creative ideas that can enhance the relationship between the company and these stakeholders.
Leverage your scale. Whether it's negotiating vendor contracts or enjoying the capacity to execute big creative ideas, scale yields benefits that should be exploited. This is low-hanging fruit for Corporate practitioners.
Perhaps the most useful thing is encouraging your Corporate staff to think of themselves at the bottom of the pyramid. No company exists without revenue, and the money is made in the businesses. Corporate exists primarily to facilitate and optimize that. This mindset is often difficult because most Corporate practitioners work at headquarters and often have access to the CEO and other Corporate leaders. It's easy to imagine in that environment that you're the big shot. You're not.
The man or woman in Seattle or Shanghai or London or Sao Paolo who is making the sale with a multimillion-dollar, long-term contract is the big shot. We all serve him or her – sometimes with big, creative ideas, sometimes with grassroots support, sometimes with CSR initiatives, and sometimes with long-term strategy.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.