Given recent trends in stakeholder engagement, leadership behavior and reliance on technology, Mark Schumann, ABC, asserts that communicators should take a hard look at what we are doing.
In a practical, sometimes alarming, but refreshing closing workshop today at the IABC World conference in Chicago, Mark suggested we need to be prepared for a change in our roles. Why? Because corporate communication as we know it is already dead.
How did he discover the obituary?
Mark recently conducted a study of 75 CEOs, HR leads, heads of communication and over 2500 employees across the United States –and uncovered some insight into the challenges that communicators are facing.
He discovered while belief in the importance of communication is higher than it ever has been, belief in professional communicators’ ability to manage that experience is not very high at all. So, in short, our role as we do it today is not valued.
So what were the specific problems that Mark discovered that would lead him to such a harsh conclusion?
The CEOs Mark studied expressed a lot of frustration about how communicators like us are doing our work. They complained that we were so focused on media, the rules, process, and acting like police that we were losing sight about what communication is all about.
The HR leaders he talked to expressed frustration at how we communicators are conducting ourselves too. How we are so focused on getting or keeping a seat at the corporate table that we get distracted by this game—and don’t get involved enough with other people.
The heads of communication he studied admitted that they were so overworked and focused on doing things that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. They were losing sight of what communication really needs to happen to help the organization succeed—and they knew it.
The most alarming fact Mark uncovered is that our stakeholders no longer need us. They have found other ways to connect and engage without us. The alarming truth, Mark asserts, is that “we are no longer relevant to the people we are trying to reach.”
So where do we go from here?
Mark asserts there is still hope. While our profession was originally founded on three “c’s”:
2. channels (that we keep endlessly filling), and
Mark wants us to add a 4thc—conversation.
So how can we save our jobs? Mark suggests that this process starts with making room for a new work and roles. The first step is to “de-clutter”—basically to review everything we do, eliminating the unnecessary, the duplications, and the inefficient processes so we can make room to focus on what we need to: what our stakeholders need. Second, we should take a closer look at that engagement survey that has been collecting dust and find out how we can help.
We also need to map out, very clearly, the relationships we need to manage. We need to look through the eyes of the people we need to reach. We need to free ourselves to talk about the relationships that are essential. We need to step out of our offices and talk to people.
So how will we deliver our work in this new model?
Mark says that we must simplify. We must work at ending our perception of being overworked, over-stressed individuals. We must start being better sponges. We should be the people who have more informal conversations than anyone. We must start asking employees what they want, how they want it and how they would organize it. We must start being the masters of conversation—open, and approachable, so we can help everyone be heard.