Adding value should never be an afterthought for communicators. Making the case for the value we add should also be foremost in our minds. But making this case is far from easy.
Business can be messy. We find lots of adversity there—muddle, conformity, office politics, cheapness, indirection. Our communication projects run into committees, smash into dogma, get sideswiped by events. We may end up with something messy and nonfunctional, like a busted up old car with the fenders gone. Our programs are vulnerable because their value is poorly understood.
Within our organizations, we must explain the role of communications in adding value. But how? Si Steers, writing at Progressive IC, raises three interesting points in Where does Internal Communications add value?.
Internal communication adds value by managing relationships, he believes. While an internal communications team may officially be assigned to spread the word about business strategy and corporate initiatives, it may also play an important secondary role in managing conflict and mediating disputes. Because internal communicators serve the organization as a whole, rather than a particular part, they may have a broader, more holistic view of that organization and its activities. The act of publishing itself serves a mediating role. The artifact we publish can serve as a touchstone for debate, prompting a conversation about business need rather than departmental dogma.
Steers also sees an interesting role for communications in project execution. Project managers will naturally focus on schedule and budget, considering communication in many cases only as an afterthought. But projects require engagement as a top priority—to gain consent (or active support), to smooth the way during project execution, to maximize project value. Along the way, project management becomes a story in itself, which an internal communicator can convey to the audience most affected by the project.
Steers also assigns to communicators the task of upholding standards throughout an organization. Some managers may be fluent communicators, while others may struggle with the role. The communications function itself may receive short shrift within an organization, particularly at budget time or in the rush to execute projects. Communicators should work with their management peers, raising awareness and standards. In doing so, they provide a lasting benefit to their organizations, helping it avoid communication mishaps and botched campaigns.
Managing relationships, telling project stories, raising standards—these are fine goals, and every communicator ought to pursue them. Steers has made a good case, but he states it in qualitative terms, which will not always carry the day. At times we must tell our story in quantitative terms. We must place a dollar value on the practice of communications. How do we make this case?