Communicating to get results.
Cynthia Kellams, national issues leader for change management at Towers Perrin, Rosslyn, Va.
Ronita Johnson, diversity planning supervisor for Pacific Gas and Electric, San Francisco.
Thomas Eidson, president and chief executive officer of Hill and Knowlton, New York City.
Neil Schmale, president of petroleum products and chemicals for Unocal Corporation, Los Angeles.
Howard Crane, founder of Howard Crane Companies, San Francisco.
Jerrold Bratkovich, president of business issues consulting for Opinion Research Corporation, Skillman, N.J.
At a recent Conference Board conference, 'Communicating for Maximum Impact' in Los Angeles, senior communication executives revealed how they drive business strategy with insightful communication programs. Their timely advice proves that communication is the vital link between business strategy and results.
A new way of thinking
'Public relations has taken a giant step in the 1990s, beyond what we do and to what we are. Corporations are now beginning to understand that they must have a strategic view of how public relations affects the work force and marketplace," says Thomas Eidson, president and chief executive officer of Hill and Knowlton, New York City.
According to Eidson, "The same way that a company needs an independent audit of an acquisition candidate before buying it, managements are waking up to the fact that they must have input from public relations experts to know how management actions will affect the company's most critical audience -- people."
Eidson believes to advance the role of public relations in your organization. you must:
* Master technology for nonpersonal communication. To survive the information revolution, we are going to have to put technology to work for us. If we fail, you and your company will be crushed under an avalanche of poorly conveyed, misunderstood information. Nobody wants or needs to be an information technology wizard.
"Voice mail is one example of nonpersonal communication that has failed miserably. It is annoying, frustrating, time wasting and, worse, ineffective," states Eidson.
* Deal from a moral base. With change all around us, one thing hasn't changed: our audiences. They respond today (as they have for hundreds of years) to honesty, candor, common sense, integrity, forthrightness and dependability.
* Become an advisor partner to top management. Develop a full partnership with top management on the most critical decisions affecting the company's future which are shoulder to shoulder with legal, financial and management consulting talent. Communication practitioners are becoming as important to well-managed companies as the CFO, the COO, the senior marketing officer and the company legal counsel.
* Communicate with credibility. We must understand how our messages can be interpreted and communicate to a dozen audiences simultaneously and with credibility.
"New research, new drugs, new designs, behavioral studies, new economic theories, new technologies -- these are driving change in the world at a dizzying pace. And every five years it's going to double again. That's what we're up against," concludes Eidson.
No short cuts to building trust
In a cluttered marketplace with new products and services introduced daily, you never really know where your next competitor will come from. However, one thing is perfectly clear, a company that has a reputation for trust captures the marketplace.
No easy tactics exist for building trust in your company. But, these three key components must be an integral part of the trust process. "We must have executive support, appropriate staffing and on-going education," according to David Scott, vice president of corporate communication of The Coastal Corporation, a Houston-based organization.
"Before we can build trust in the marketplace, we have to build trust in the work place. First and foremost, we have to sell ourselves. We have to build trust, respect and credibility within our own organizations," Scott says. "If your chairman, CEO, president, CFO, legal counsel or other key decision maker thinks corporate communication is overhead or a burden; if they don't respect your function's capabilities or staff, then trying to win in the marketplace is futile. You won't get one idea approved."
Emphasis should be placed not on how and what to say, but rather on what should be done. Scott believes the following three ingredients are a must.
First: Corporate communication must earn a seat at the management table. You need strong positive support of top management for what you're trying to do.
Second: Build a staff of bright and talented people. Use a strong, informed staff of professionals who can ignite a firestorm communication effort involving all the tools and channels available. Use generalists who can cut through the corporate gobbledygook and sift out the important stuff. A poor reputation results from shoddy work by people entrusted with that organization's reputation.
Third: Continue to broaden your view of business, industries and the world around us. To be part of the management team, you must become informed, inspired and an integral part of the business.
"The opinion leaders who rate your performance are a suspecting lot -- security analysts, reporters, editors, regulators, civic leaders. They all tend to be human beings with a strong sense of fair play and a well-deserved reputation for culling out those people who waste their time. That's not because they're opinion leaders. That's why they're opinion leaders," says Scott.
"If ever there was time for building trust in every marketplace -- from the stock market to the supermarket -- today is the day," concludes Scott.
Work-place partnerships work
Partnerships don't just happen. They require time, energy, attention and resources. But, if properly constructed and maintained, the payoff will be enhanced business results. From an organizational perspective, many different types of partnerships are possible and desirable.
Cynthia Kellams, national issues leader for change management at Towers Perrin, believes there are two primary approaches to building successful organizational partnerships in the work place -- a process-oriented approach or a results-oriented approach.
"Communicators typically select the process-oriented approach since it is familiar and draws heavily on learned skills and techniques. This process relies on slogan development, writing and production skills and facilitation skills. The likely outcome results in more meetings, new communication vehicles and more programs or events," says Kellams.
"On the other hand, the results-oriented approach is driven by one simple business objective . . . the need to get things done. It requires a solid understanding of the business and what it takes to succeed. The emphasis is on generating specific results of needed change. The targeted results may be improved quality, reduced cycle time or a smaller work force," she says. To lay the foundation for this approach:
* Develop a shared purpose. Make sure all employees understand the organization's mission and vision.
* Translate words into action. Interpret the mission and vision into specific desired behaviors at all levels.
* Set performance objectives. Define and communicate the objectives and regularly report the progress versus the plan.
* Clarify roles and interrelationships. Inform each employee how they affect the process.
* Reward achievers. Align reward and recognition systems with organizational objectives.
* Act on feedback. Insist on continuous feedback and respond to employees' input.
"Communicators can improve their value to the organization by supporting the creation and maintenance of strong, results-producing partnerships in the work place," concludes Kellam.
Communicating to a diverse work force
No one can deny that the work place has changed dramatically. We have shifted from a predominantly white-male work force to a diverse work force. And it will be no accident that organizations that adapt to this shift will be more successful than others.
Since an organization's culture is multidimensional, diversity communication must be delivered with consistent messages and the full support of top management to build credibility.
"We have a five-year plan to implement our diversity program. We are committed to the diversity process and recognize that our people are the company's most valuable asset," says Ronita Johnson, diversity planning supervisor for Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The diversity strategy for PG&E consists of:
* Create a vision and build understanding. Adapt and clearly communicate the vision. Clearly make the distinction between the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action (EEO/AA) and managing diversity. Make sure that management becomes a change agent. Relate managing diversity to existing initiatives. Incorporate the concept into the long-range planning process.
* Assessing the organizational culture. Collect data to determine the work-force profile. Conduct individual and group interviews. Use data to validate strategies.
* Training and educating the work force. Provide diversity awareness programs, seminars and conferences. "Our goal is to provide diversity awareness workshops for our 27,000 employees by 1993," says Johnson.
* Adapting policies and procedures. Design written guidelines that include benefits, work and family, rewards and recognition, recruitment, staffing and selection, performance measurement, succession planning, and appraisal and feedback.
* Monitoring and evaluating. Evaluate the outcomes of each strategy using both quantitative and qualitative indicators to determine success. Create a "Diversity Change Team" to work with corporate strategy in the implementation of change.
"At PG&E our vision is to ultimately become the role model organization to manage diversity," concludes Johnson.
Survey your audience for credibility
Aligning organizational performance with market realities is the key to achieving strategic objectives in a competitive marketplace. Employee buy-in is a must to achieve strategic objectives.
"The new employee survey is an alignment tool," claims Jerrold Bratkovich, president of business issues consulting for Opinion Research Corporation. "The traditional employee survey is now obsolete. We have moved from a tactical to a strategic approach. And, the shift has moved from satisfaction to effective use of human resources."
A survey demonstrates management's interest in employee viewpoints. Moreover, survey follow-up increases information flow upward, downward and laterally. An effectively positioned survey:
* Provides an agenda for management/employee meetings.
* Establishes the foundation for ongoing face-to-face dialogue.
* Develops cross-functional teams to address survey issues.
* Provides a baseline for ongoing tracking and feedback on performance progress.
* Identifies barriers to achieving objectives.
"Surveys in the past focused on job satisfaction, job security, pay, benefits, supervision, advancement opportunity and working conditions," says Bratkovich. "Today's insightful survey clarifies direction, eliminates barriers to effective service delivery, carries the voice of the customer and covers the effectiveness of human resource initiatives."
Effectively positioned surveys add strategic focus when rapid translation of results are put into action. "A warning to all interested people in employee surveys: An ounce of understanding is a heavy load to bear," concludes Bratkovich.
Listening builds loyalty
Customer loyalty must be earned every day. Difficult as it may be, to succeed in business today you need to listen endlessly to your customers.
For Unocal, communication is a competitive tool that affects public perceptions, attracts customers and improves productivity. Moreover, the net result is a more profitable company.
"If the public continues to perceive Unocal as the bad guy, we can expect continued heavy-handed regulation. And the ultimate effect will be higher costs and more restrictive regulations that will impede our ability to operate," says Neil Schmale, president of petroleum products and chemicals for Unocal Corporation, based in Los Angeles.
To get closer to the customer, Unocal replaced its management hierarchies with a much flatter organization. This means more direct contact between the company and the consumer that leads to quicker and better decisions. Schmale believes to improve customer loyalty you need to listen and must:
* Be environmentally conscious and responsible.
* Demonstrate your commitment to the community.
* Recognize the diversity of your customers.
* Communicate consistent quality messages.
* Listen to the concerns of the customers.
"In today's business climate, we need business leaders who can provide a vision and direction. Leaders who have sense enough to understand that they have to listen to their employees, customers and public opinion in order to stay in the game," concludes Schmale.
The competitive stakes for business have never been higher. Today's business environment is unforgiving. And top management is holding public relations to the same unreasonable standards as any other function in the company.
"I can't think of a time in my memory when top management was less concerned with company image. Today the focus is on performance and results. So PR, if it is to be effective and valued, must adopt those priorities and focus its limited resources on the core issues of the business, even if it means letting less urgent matters go unattended," claims Howard Crane, former senior vice president of corporate affairs for MCI Communications. In 1992, he founded the Howard Crane Companies based in San Francisco.
Bill McGowan, who founded MCI in 1968, understood very quickly that he was going up against motherhood, the flag and apple pie, all rolled into one. And given his absolute lack of financial resources, he had no alternative but to take his case directly to the public via the news media. So very early on, public relations became an important strategic weapon in MCI's battle against AT&T.
McGowan also knew intuitively that while AT&T had an apparently unassailable reputation, particularly among the government regulators, its relationship with its customers was less than harmonious.
MCI was up against a very large and successful rival that also had, with the government's blessing, a true monopoly on telephone service in the U.S., and it had grown to be the largest corporation in the world. To compete against AT&T, Crane and his staff developed a healthy version of corporate jujitsu. The secrets to their success were:
* A proactive PR program that not only has aggressive promotion of your own strengths, but also occasionally spotlights your competitor's shortcomings.
* Aggressive communication that showcased entrepreneurial instincts. More important, the strategy focused on the needs of the customer. And they weren't hung up on reputation. "Companies that put reputation ahead of performance are falling behind compared to companies that remain focused on results," claims Crane.
* A conscious strategy of doing the opposite of AT&T, thereby endearing itself to a younger generation of consumers.
MCI's public relations tactics and techniques have never changed and have always been an integral part of the operating mix. MCI has gone from a tiny upstart to an established competitor whose revenues will exceed U.S. $10 billion this year.
"When designing your customer campaign, ask yourself these questions. If you were going to put a banner in your company, what would it say? What is your rallying cry? What is your focus? And, can you say it in five words or less?" Crane believes these are the core public relations ingredients of getting closer to your customer.
In the final analysis, we are in a unique position to demonstrate to top management, employees and customers that communication is the life blood of any successful organization. Moreover, if we expect our organizations to survive with increased global competition and a changing work force, we must think strategically and build employer-employee relationships and communicate with maximum impact to our customers.
Lee Hornick is president and CEO of The Corporate Edge, New York City.
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|Title Annotation:||using communications programs to assist business strategy|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1992|
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