Sustainable change is your year-end goal

The end of the year and start of the new one is a time to step back and put structure and process in place to be sure your priorities get tackled and that they are done in a way that assures they remain tackled for the balance of the year and well beyond.

My head is spinning a bit from all the corporate communications and marketing executives out there who are trying to finish the year strong, manage their budgets properly – a year-end art form in itself! – and plan for the new year.

That last part, planning for the new year, seems to trigger questions around change. What trends will impact my business? What new skill sets do I need in my function? How do my people work optimally with other functions? How do we enhance our value in the enterprise? Those are just a few.

The word “process” often gets a bad rap and I'm not a big fan of rigidity and protocol. However, as the communications function is hit with – or embraces – so much change, the most effective professionals are realizing that the solution to a more successful 2013 is to invest a little time in the short-term around structure and processes in order to achieve long-term benefit.

For example, a recent McKinsey Quarterly piece, “Leadership and the Art of Plate Spinning,” started with three questions:

•What are your company's ten most exciting value-creation opportunities?

•Who are your ten best people?

•How many of your ten best people are working on your ten most exciting opportunities?

I recently facilitated a day-long strategy session with a well-respected company. We inventoried all the work being done by the comms function and who was responsible for what. Then we put that aside and asked about the five-to-ten most important business priorities of the company. And we asked which senior business executive had responsibility for each of those priorities.

What did we learn? Members of the company's most senior executive committee each owned one of the major initiatives. No surprise. But on the comms side, a mid-level staffer was assigned to each project under the direction of a senior comms pro who reported to the CCO.

Not good. And the planning exercise made the issue obvious. Once the grid was on the wall, the group didn't need me to point out the obvious: that if an issue is important enough for a corporate EVP to own it, then it ought to be a priority of the most senior comms pros in the company.

Lesson: Step back, elevate your view of what's going on, and take a fresh look at business priorities and how you're staffed against them.

I have a second example. Companies now are scrambling to establish robust listening capabilities, including how centralized they should be, how integrated they should be with marketing and customer service, what the deliverables will be, whether those deliverables are just PR-oriented or serve as the basis for issues tracking and input for regular leadership reviews, and so on.

The answers, of course, aren't the same for every company, but stepping back and investing the time and resources necessary to get this right will pay huge dividends going forward.

One more thing to ponder: Performance metrics remain an area of concern for many business-line executives. The growth in digital activity makes metrics more accessible, meaningful, and actionable, but I remain surprised at how often executives seem to believe performance metrics in their company really don't exist, at least nothing credible and meaningful.

The end of the year and start of the new one is a time to step back and put structure and process in place to be sure your priorities get tackled and that they are done in a way that assures they remain tackled for the balance of the year and well beyond.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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