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IABC Research Foundation Think Tank reports on issues affecting the future of the profession. (Foundation Findings).

IABC's Think Tank meets annually to carry out one of the Research Foundation's most important goals: identify and communicate information about trends and significant issues in business communication. Earlier this year, 24 senior professionals representing a variety of backgrounds and industries--and six countries--gathered to explore and recommend topics for potential research by the foundation. To arrive at their conclusions, participants tapped into their collective knowledge, discussions from past Think Tanks and an IABC member poll.

In its October 2001 poll, IABC offered members 16 topic choices and asked for their top three picks for future research. Three critical issues provided the starting point for this year's Think Tank meeting:

1. Demonstrating communication's return on investment (ROI).

2. Structuring a communication department for maximum success.

3. Communicators as culture-builders.


Much of the Think Tank's attention was centered on the ROI issue. Communicators said they want a method or an analytical tool to prove their monetary value and a quantitative analysis validating ROI on a communication project or program.

Other studies (the IABC Research Foundation's Excellence Study and the Communication Competence and Business Success Study, for instance) have made significant progress toward demonstrating communication's value to an organization. But no magic formula exists that will deliver quantitative proof to management or clients that communication delivers a high return. Communicators also want to be able to prove that good communication leads to improved returns, but correlation data that demonstrate how effective communication is linked to improved returns may be more appropriate.


Other Think Tank discussion focused on what communicators should do to confront pressing issues and how they can be better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Four topics surfaced:

* Enhance understanding of communication measurement: Communicators should be aggressive in measuring the results of their efforts. Communication activities that are focused on influencing opinions, attitudes and behavior that can be measured and evaluated reflect a business-like, results-oriented approach that will continue to build credibility for individual communicators and the profession.

* Expand role as builders of organizational communities: Communicators should leverage their skills and their organizational learning/knowledge to find ways to integrate the needs of various departments and functions. They must transcend intra-organizational bias and look for wider communities, examining ways the organization fits with and relates to various communities.

* Build links to the chief executive officer: Counseling the CEO continues to be an opportunity for communicators. As more businesses and organizations encounter ethical conflict, communicators may need to assume the role of the "conscience of the organization," integrating their role in building relationships within the organization and establishing communication as a multi-disciplinary profession. To this end, communication professionals need to incorporate business knowledge and tools into their work to support the CEO's effort in ensuring that business objectives are met.

* Assume roles outside the box: IABC's Think Tank considered two emerging and important roles for communicators: marketing (supporting corporate branding initiatives) and human resources (an evolving need for performance consulting).

The group discussed whether the communication function is extending into three roles: 1) counselor to CEO, a role that is more objective and independent of other organizational departments and functions; 2) brand consultant; and 3) performance consultant.


In addition to the primary topics, Think Tank members delved into several other issues affecting communication professionals.

* Tactician vs. strategist: Communication professionals continue to be viewed as doers vs. thinkers, as tacticians rather than strategists. Although a need exists for both types of professionals, in both cases communicators should link their plans, projects and overall programs in a strategic context and should use organizational goals as the centerpiece.

* Integrating business into communication: Communicators must translate business issues into people issues by becoming better educated about and more involved in all elements of the organization (sales, finance, IT, administration and operations). They must challenge themselves to learn from--and build partnering relationships with--other functions and disciplines within the organization.

* Demonstrating the value of communication: As one Think Tank member stated: It's not what communicators can do, it's what they can do for the organization. Communicators can assume the role of keepers of the corporate culture. They can help business achieve its objectives. Communicators can change attitudes, urge action and stimulate sales. They must view their work in these terms: What are we trying to achieve? Can we measure the impact of our efforts as they relate to business issues? Does this improve the bottom line?


Several issues emerged as the front-runners for IABC Research Foundation research, including:

* Best practices: Define best practices and help communicators learn how to translate and apply them appropriately to their organizations.

* A diagnostic model: Establish a process to identify problems and solutions. Set up a model based on the best thinking in the profession to assure high confidence of success.

* Building confidence through competence: Determine the competencies that communicators should possess to be most successful in their organizations.

* Communication function: Investigate how the function has evolved. Study its connections to other departments, and how the best-performing communications departments are organized.


The IABC Research Foundation has decided to fund two new research projects based on the Think Tank's work:

* Commonalities of Best Practices in Communication: to address the need for standards and development of best practices in communication.

* Ethics and Communication: to address a recurring theme of prior Think Tanks that has moved into prominence as a result of recent news.


RFPs for these projects were posted online in September ( Click on Research Foundation.

The continuing work of the IABC Research Foundation's annual Think Tank and emerging research agenda aim to support the greatest needs of IABC members as they develop skills, structure their departments and create effective communication programs.



Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the IABC Research Foundation serves as the research and development arm of ABC. The Foundation provides knowledge and understanding to help organizations become more effective through communication. It helps communicators maximize their contribution to organizational success and serves as a rich source of information and ideas for developing ABC resources.

Our vision: To contribute a body of knowledge that advances the practice, perception and effectiveness of communication.

Our mission: To serve the association, its members and other in the profession through research that supports and advances the practice of organizational communication.

Foundation trustees include organizational communication professionals, senior business professionals and research and academic experts.

More than 50 distinguished communication professionals from around the world serve the Foundation as trustees or committee members.

Karen Vahouny, ABC, chairman of the 2002 IABC Think Tank, is a partner in Qorvis Communications, a full-service and fully integrated communication consultancy based in the Washington, D.C., area. Natasha Spring is executive director of the IABC Research Foundation and executive editor of Communication World.
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Author:Spring, Natasha
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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