5 Ways to Put Communication on the Executive Agenda

Many of the communication professionals I know are passionate about what they do. Like any profession, there are people who just sort of ended up here and go about their work half-heartedly, simply doing whatever their boss tells them to do, and there are people who really believe what they do can make a big impact on their company’s success.

I place myself in the latter category and so do many of my friends in the business. Down through the years, however, I’ve heard even the most passionate communicators sing a familiar refrain: “The CEO/President/General Manager doesn’t know the untapped potential of what I do. He/she doesn’t understand communication and really doesn’t seem to care.”

I get this frustration. I’ve been there. Fortunately, many of my employers and clients have been believers in the power of strategic communication. Still, a good number of them have not been.

So, how do you get business leaders to pay attention to communication and make it a priority for the organization? Here are 5 things that can help.

  1. Find a champion. Often, communication professionals are mid-level managers or lower on the organizational totem pole. Sometimes you don’t have the access or influence necessary to put communication on the executive agenda. This is where a champion can help — someone who buys into the gospel of communication and will help you proselytize the decision makers. In most cases, this is someone in your chain of command, but sometimes the higher-ups in your organization are responsible for communication though not formally schooled in it. You might first need to win their hearts and minds before you can win over the chief executive. I witnessed the power of a champion in one client organization. She wielded a lot of influence in the executive suite and won a lot of victories for the communication staff even though she was not a professional communicator.
  2. Be an advocate. I’ve often said that public relations and communication professionals are the worst at publicizing and communicating about our own profession. Sometimes what is needed is an old-fashioned PR campaign for communication. That means first establishing a relationship with the target audience (executive management) and then seeking to influence their thinking about communication. If we don’t advocate for communication, it’s likely no one else will. I did this in a manufacturing facility where I worked for 8 years. Whenever I saw a relevant article or news item about how communication had helped a business, I circulated it among the management team. Before long, they were asking me how our business could get some of what communication had to offer.
  3. Legitimize communication as a business function. Communication is often not on the radar screen of business leaders — or if it is, they see it as a tactical function, not a strategic one. Among the best ways to legitimize communication is to join a professional organization like IABC or PRSA. Even better, volunteer for a leadership role in it. Then make your senior management aware of your involvement (again, a champion can help with this). Accreditation is another way to elevate communication in the minds of executives. When I earned Accredited Business Communicator designation, the general manager of the manufacturing plant where I worked personally congratulated me on the achievement.
  4. Measure the impact of what you do. I’m not just talking about “readership surveys” and web stats about how many hits the intranet gets. Learn how to measure the impact of your work and then make those results known. When that same manufacturing plant sought ISO certification, communication was a significant part of the effort because everyone had to be on board in order to be successful. The communication goal was the same as the business goal: to earn certification, not to publish X copies of a special newsletter or to hold a certain number of meetings. The project manager for ISO certification had the ear of senior management through regular updates on the process. Those updates always included the communication element. Which leads to the next point…
  5. Get recognized for the good work you do. I submitted the communication plan for ISO certification in a statewide IABC awards program — and it won. That kind of recognition helped solidify communication’s place as a vital business function in the mind of the plant manager.

Showing up on the executive radar screen doesn’t happen overnight. It can be a slow chipping-away process and there will be times when you wonder if the effort is worth it. I believe it is. There is not much greater satisfaction for a communicator than knowing the leaders of your business understand and value what you do.


3 Responses

  1. Hi Robert! Q: How do you measure impact?

    • It involves measuring the right things — outcomes rather than outputs. An output would be how many hits a website gets, how many people attended an event, etc. An outcome would be that X people signed up for the new health plan or that X% of customer-service reps changed the way they dealt with a problem after communication initiatives to address those issues. Impact can be measured by an actual business outcome (such as the plant gaining ISO certification; communication certainly played a role) or it can be measured by asking the right questions on a brief survey (Did communications about the new health plan influence your decision to sign up for it?).

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